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Film Review: ‘Bride Wars’

A not-great Hollywood romantic comedy gets even worse in this atrocious Chinese remake.

Ni Ni, Angelababy, Chen Xiao, Zhu Yawen, He Jiong, Jing Boran, Liu Jinshan, Wang Yinan, Xi Wang, Feng Shaofeng, Du Haitao. (Mandarin, Shanghainese, English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3833460/

Possibly the first mainland Chinese remake of a Hollywood nuptial-themed romantic comedy, “Bride Wars” offers a veritable handbook on wedding arrangements that may spark a new genre of Chinese matrimony porn, but what little heart or frothy fun there was in the Gary Winick-directed original are crushed by all that bling and put-on pageantry. Despite the ready-made template, scenes are scattered like confetti, and judging from the cosmic spaciness projected by dolled-up stars Ni Ni and Angelababy, Hong Kong-American helmer-scribe Tony Chan hasn’t a clue how female friends relate to each other. Although the film opened in first place domestically with nearly $14.3 million, ticket sales fell 74% the next day.

Admittedly, Winick’s fluffy film about BFFs fighting over a wedding-reception slot at the Plaza Hotel was no great shakes to begin with. But with original co-star Kate Hudson, Julie Yorn and Hong Kong auteur Fruit Chan sharing producer credits on this project co-developed by Fox’s Beijing arm and local giant Bona Film Group, an Asian Bridezilla saga might have been tolerably amusing, what with the myriad customs and rituals still fastidiously honored at contempo Chinese weddings. Instead, all involved are content to import Western protocol wholesale, while turning up the ostentation of the production design.

The film’s superficiality is not helped by its lack of dramatic focus, a sign that Chan hasn’t tightened up the episodic style he demonstrated in the romantic omnibuses “Hot Summer Days” and “Love in Space” (co-helmed with the Hong Kong photographer Wing Shya). In light of the poor word of mouth for “Bride Wars,” it will be interesting to see how mainland moviegoers take to the Sony-invested, Alexi Tan-helmed remake of “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” slated for release next year.

In adapting the screenplay by Greg Depaul, Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael, Chan, Gu Wei and Xu Yiliang stay close to the original story. Whatever tweaks have been applied only serve to heighten the cheesiness of the material without particularly enhancing its cultural relevance, such as a prelude in which protags Ma Li (Ni Ni) and He Jing (Angelababy) appear as finalists on a TV gameshow, competing to win a honeymoon in Verona. Without explaining a single step in the game, this episode is abruptly dropped and resumes only toward the end, with a wannabe-touching/farcical moment that’s inconsequential to the drama.

The women first met as 11-year-old girls at a performing-arts school in Shanghai, their bestie status sealed with a piece of Godiva chocolate. While moonlighting as flower girls for hire, they became bewitched by the whole wedding concept and vowed to walk down the same aisle themselves one day. By age 28, Li has become an online merchandising entrepreneur, while Jing teaches ballet to moppets. They’ve also found boyfriends as bland as the ones in the original — photographer Luo Dan (Zhu Yawen) and architect Kevin (Chen Xiao) — but here, the women are the ones who bludgeon their beaus into proposing, for fear that they’ll turn into “expired yogurt,” as their hectoring parents tactfully put it.

So off they go to celebrity wedding planner Sir Alexander (TV host He Jiong, replacing the elegant Candice Bergen), an imperious fop who dresses like Little Lord Fauntleroy, and whose sole dramatic function is to rattle off astronomical price lists and service fees. The women both want to hold their reception at the “Garden of Romance,” some sort of wedding-theme-park stand-in for the Plaza, but a credit-card glitch results in a double booking on the same big day.

Fighting for the precious slot, the bosom buddies try to sabotage each other’s wedding preparations, giving rise to pranks that, mimicking those in the Hollywood version, are neither nasty nor inventive enough to entertain. Despite their clamorous protestations of loyalty to each other, the two protags are never shown communicating with each other in the subtle, empathetic way women often do. Since their female friendship never convinces from the outset, it’s hard to see what there is to lose; likewise, no romantic vibes are discernible when the brides-to-be are alone with their fiances.

Even the snappy pacing (courtesy of ace Hong Kong editor Wenders Li) can’t generate any sense of escalating crisis in a movie whose every scene seems to exist merely to flaunt the characters’ luxurious lifestyle and open the product-placement floodgates. So much so that fancy spas and cavernous wine cellars, restaurants that look like museums and offices that look like art galleries, become the real stars of the show. The pomp reaches side-splitting proportions at the reception, complete with pagoda-sized wedding cakes and haystack-sized floral arrangements; the confetti, instead of being sprinkled, erupts like volcanic ash.

If Hudson wasn’t especially likable as a high-paid lawyer determined to stay at the top of her game, she was at least clearly defined, her pushy attitude given some psychological roots. The only dimension to Ma Li’s personality, by contrast, is bitchiness, and her willingness to drain all her savings for the perfect wedding seems too irrational for a shrewd entrepreneur like her. Likewise, Anne Hathaway’s doormat of a character experienced some self-awakening, learning to assert herself not just to Liv, but also to her fiance and her bullying maid of honor. Here, despite every character praising her for being “too nice,” He Jing’s every action and opinion proves otherwise.

The performances are as screechy as market brawls; when the women aren’t yanking at each other’s hair or destroying their precious keepsakes, they still indulge unnecessary tics even in normal conversation, tossing their heads and rocking from side to side. Ni Ni, who’s too sophisticated and graceful to play the unhinged type, is out of tune with the histrionic mood; Angelababy, tasked with playing the more sensitive role, doesn’t have the sheer screen presence that would lend emotional heft to such a flimsy character. Angelababy’s fiance, Huang Xiaoming, and Ni Ni’s former lover, Feng Xiaofeng, make mind-boggling cameo appearances.

Tech credits are glossy in a glaringly artificial way, right down to the pop soundtrack that drowns almost every scene.

Film Review: 'Bride Wars'

Reviewed at UA KK Mall, Shenzhen, China. Aug. 21, 2015. Running time: 90 MIN. (Original title: "Xinniang da zuo zhan")

Production: (China-U.S.) A Tianjin Bona Cultural Media Co., Huaxia Film Distribution Co. (in China) release of a Bona Film Group Co., Fox Intl. Prods. (Greater China), Bona Entertainment Co. Shenzhen, Tencent Video Culture Communication presentation of a Fox Intl. Prods. (Greater China), Buddy Creative production. (International sales: Fox Intl. Prods. (Greater China), Beijing.) Produced by Fruit Chan. Executive producers, Kate Hudson, Julie Yorn, Carrie Wong, Yu Dong, Jeffrey Chan, Sun Zhonghuai.

Crew: Directed by Tony Chan. Screenplay, Greg Depaul, Casey Wilson, June Diane Raphael, adapted by Chan, Gu Wei, Xu Yiliang, based on the story by Depaul. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Kokei Wong; editor, Wenders Li; music/music supervisor, Eddy Chung; production designer, Walter Wong; set decorator, Wong Ka-wai; costume designer, Kevin Ma; sound (Dolby SRD 5.1); Phyllis Cheng; line producer, Aaron Lai; associate producer, Miqi Huang; assistant director, Ho Yiu-leung; casting, Ye Lifeng.

With: Ni Ni, Angelababy, Chen Xiao, Zhu Yawen, He Jiong, Jing Boran, Liu Jinshan, Wang Yinan, Xi Wang, Feng Shaofeng, Du Haitao. (Mandarin, Shanghainese, English dialogue)

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