'Girls' ('Gui Mi'): Film Review

Fujian Hengye Film Distribution
Uneven tone and unconvincing relationships await the teens who pay.

Hong Kong director Barbara Wong delivers a mainland China-funded, Taipei-set romantic comedy about three friends' problems with men and each other.

Uneven in tone, unabashedly kitschy and unconvincing in its presentation of characters and how they interact in friendship and love, Hong Kong helmer Barbara Wong's mainland China-backed, Taipei-set film is as generic as its title suggests. Beyond the young women's onscreen chatter about sex and men — and talk is all they could ever do, as mainland Chinese censors are always watching — there's a lack of either audacity or irony essential in setting a rom- com apart from the crowded field in the 21st century. Its fortunes beyond home are uncertain among male and female viewers alike.

The film's original title, Gui Mi, translates as "Bedroom Honey," a term used by young women in mainland China to describe their close (female) confidantes. So the very basis of the film should be to create a believable bond among its protagonists, namely the mild-mannered hotel manager, Xiwen (Ivy Chen, Campus Confidential), the sturdy filmmaker, Xiaomei (Yang Zishan, So Young), and — hey, every rom-com needs one now — the feisty lifestyle magazine executive, Kimmy (Fiona Sit, La comedie humaine). They talk of themselves as having been buddies for nearly two decades, but it's difficult to see how they could have maintained their friendship throughout adolescence and early adulthood, with their temperament and taste in material goods and men divergent to the point of being divisive.

Written by Wong herself, Girls' screenplay opts for distraction rather than discrimination in the choice of gags to generate empathy for their friendship. The film's wildly inconsistent mood — a shortcoming that undermined Wong's previous film, The Stolen Years — has a hard time securing empathy from the viewer. As an aftermath of the film's first tragedy, Xiwen discovering the infidelity of her fiance, Lin Jie (Wallace Chung, The Continent), Wong opts for farce: falling into a long daze, Xiwen is placed in a wheelchair and used as a visual gag as Kimmy and Xiaomei drag her to the shops (using her paramour's credit card, of course) to help her rehabilitate.

Later on, as it's Xiaomei's turn for a misguided-love catastrophe with the flighty and flamboyant rocker Jiu Tian (Vanness Wu), extreme melodrama rears its head: there's screaming and hollering all around as the girls row and spew venom against each other, and Kimmy makes the ridiculous move to "prove" that Xiaomei is with the wrong man. This is a guy who's not in the naive Xiaomei's league, Kimmy's argument goes — but then, who is?, given that this is a rock 'n' roller who listens to a baby crying on his headphones while out clubbing, who drinks kava from a coconut shell while relaxing on his lavish yacht and whose motto in life is "carpe diem con respicio."

That the phrase is half-Latin and half-gibberish should be the least of the viewer's worries. But it nevertheless symbolizes a lack of research, whether it's into the specifics of the bourgeois culture these characters love to wallow in or the more universal truths about human nature. It's perhaps more than coincidental that the film's most empathetic strand is the blooming bond between Xiwen and the nondescript Qiao Li (Shawn Yue, Love in a Puff), their exchanges taut with a more organic tension underlined by some verite-style hand-held camerawork.

What Girls does create is a fairy tale of young women looking after each other, sharing intimate secrets (mostly about men, of course) and not letting go even if trouble brews. Which is all very well, given that this is entertainment shaped as a fantasy for the 15-25 demographic. But there also are many dangling threads that could have been developed in a more interesting fashion: the notion of class differences, for example, or how Kimmy's save-and-destroy attitude toward her bosom buddies' relationship issues might actually be a sign of her suppressed desire for her friends.

Dabbling in such issues might have made good on the promise Wong has shown in her career, which, admittedly, has become more mellow and conservative as time goes on: this is, after all, the filmmaker who debuted in 2001 with Women's Private Parts, a documentary with interviewees (director Ann Hui and actor Susan Shaw among them) speaking frankly about female sexuality.

Wong actually bookends Girls with two segments in which the three characters sit down and are recorded talking for a documentary called — surprise! — Women's Private Parts. It may be an in-joke designed to remind mainland Chinese viewers of where Wong came from, but it's also an unfortunate reminder of the manic energy so lacking in the director's work now.


Production companies: Fujian Heng Ye Film Distribution

Cast: Ivy Chen, Fiona Sit, Yang Zishan, Shawn Yue, Wallace Chung, Vanness Wu

Director: Barbara Wong

Screenwriter: Barbara Wong

Producer: Grace Song

Executive producer: Andy Chen

Director of photography:

Production designer: Lee Tung-kang

Editor: Kwong Chi-leung

Music: Mark Lui

International Sales: Fujian Hangye Film Distribution

In Mandarin and English

No rating, 118 minutes