In tribute to Valentine’s Day, we’ll be recommending a different kind of romantic movie for each week in the month of February. This week: 2011’s What Women Want, a foreign-language remake of the Mel Gibson/Helen Hunt romantic comedy.
This week’s recommendation is What Women Want — but not the What Women Want you’re probably thinking of. Paramount’s hit rom-com, which starred Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt and hit theaters in 2000, isn’t available on Netflix’s Instant Watch service. What is available is the little-known Chinese remake of the same name, which grossed over $10 million in its home country in 2011.
Anyone who’s seen the original What Women Want knows pretty much exactly what they’re getting into with this remake. Andy Lau stars as Sun Zigang, a chauvinistic ad executive who gains the ability to hear what women are thinking. At first, he plans to use his new powers manipulate the women around him, which incudes getting a leg up on his professional rival Li Yilong (Gong Li). But when collaboration on a high-profile account forces Sun and Li to work together, the duo find themselves unexpectedly attracted to one another — and Sun has to decide what kind of man he really wants to be.
To be clear: While this is a reasonably charming rom-com anchored by two enormously likable leads, I’m not recommending the Chinese remake of What Women Want on quality alone. The real value in What Women Want is the rare and fascinating chance it offers for American audiences to see a quintessentially American movie filtered through a foreign lens.
On a pure plot level, this What Women Want remake faithfully follows virtually every beat of the original film, but little aspects of Chinese culture come through. There’s an original, extended gag in which the characters try to figure out what you can order at a Japanese restaurant in the heart of China. And in one of its biggest departures from the original What Women Want, this remake grinds to a halt so that Andy Lau — who’s as as popular a singer as he is an actor in China — can perform an entire adult contemporary single for reasons that the film’s narrative barely bothers to justify.
It is, in short, the kind of disorienting experience that pretty much every country besides the United States has grown accustomed to in this age of reboots and remakes — and that makes it a can’t-miss curiosity for anyone who wants to see what happens the traditional Hollywood remake process plays out in reverse.
Watch a trailer of this film and the original here.
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