Chinese cinema screens are no stranger to the event movie, and so a Chinese remake of the much loved 1997 Hollywood rom-com My Best Friend’s Wedding (我最好朋友的婚礼, Wǒ Zuì Hǎo Péngyǒu de Hūnlǐ) arrives right on time for Chinese Valentine’s Day. Purely by coincidence of course! However, those familiar with the 1997 Julia Roberts starring movie may recall that My Best Friend’s Wedding is a classic example of the subverted romance which doesn’t end with the classic happy ever after, but acts as a tonic to the sickly sweet love stories Hollywood is known for by embracing the more realistic philosophy that sometimes it just really is too late and you have to accept that you let the moment get away from you, painful as that may be.
This time the story focuses on Gu Jia (Shu Qi), recently made editor-in-chief of a Chinese fashion magazine her career is riding high but there’s something nagging at Gu Jia’s happiness that she’s been content to keep on the back burner. On an important work assignment in Milan she begins remembering a wonderful holiday she had there with her childhood friend Lin Ran (Feng Shaofeng). Lin Ran is a football reporter who has been working in London with the BBC so he and Gu Jia have not seen each other for a while. Just as she’s going into her first fashion show, Gu Jia receives an unexpected phone call from Lin Ran who has some surprising news – he’s getting married. The following weekend. Suddenly Gu Jia’s world crumbles.
Jumping on the next plane to London, Gu Jia makes a fool of herself as a crying mess but meets a very nice, sympathetic guy who does a good job of pretending not to mind very much when she chucks champaign all over him during a drunken “conversation” with her mental Lin Ran. On arrival she’s thrilled to see the real Lin Ran but much less so to meet his wife to be – Xuan Xuan (Victoria Song), a very young, bubbly, and slightly silly girl from an extremely wealthy family. Gu Jia is even more determined than ever to derail Lin Ran’s wedding and win him back for herself.
There was undoubtedly something very 1990s about My Best Friend’s Wedding and its daring acknowledgement that sometimes the happy ending lies in learning to accept there are things you will always regret, but you just have to learn to live with them. Somehow it’s difficult to imagine a romantic comedy making a success of a “realistic” ending rather the dash to the airport final confessions and reconciliations the genre is known for in these more troubled times. It’s surprising that in switching the action to China the ages of the leads have increased – Julia Roberts’ character was 28 in the original film (the idea being to get married before 28) but Shu Qi and Feng Shaofeng are playing characters in their ‘30s who have already established themselves in extremely successful, international careers.
The majority of the film takes place in London and is filled with picturesque, touristy images of the various famous landmarks, sunshine filled green parks, and of course big red buses. This is the London inhabited by the elite super rich who flit between upscale boutiques and live in spacious Kensington townhouses with flashy convertibles parked in the paved driveway which is enclosed inside a large metal gate (at one point Gu Jia and Lin Ran take a ride on a double-decker as an “experience” because he hasn’t been on one in years). It’s all very “aspirational” in one sense, but also a little unpleasant as rich people hang out with other rich people because they’re all rich together and all anyone’s interested in is how much money everyone else has.
This becomes the film’s central problem as it indulges in some the least subtle product placement to ever grace the cinema screen. On arrival in Milan, Gu Jia heads into the Bulgari hotel which has adverts for Bulgari watches on the TV screens (as the real hotel undoubtedly does) with the brand then turning up on shopping bags and even prominently on the lid of a wedding ring box. The film also makes a show of everything from whiskies to airlines and fashion houses including an actual cameo from designer Christian Louboutin.
The one thing it doesn’t showcase is any kind of emotional connection with the material. Shu Qi does what she can with an extremely underwritten part which provides her with no real way to explain just why it is she finds it impossible to reveal her true feelings to Lin Ran, but there’s little chemistry between any of the co-stars and the various connections between them never ring true. Unlike the original film, Gu Jia’s “boyfriend” stooge (a Mandarin speaking British Chinese guy, Nick, played by Rhydian Vaughn) is not gay though he does briefly pretend to be to open a path for Lin Ran to choose Gu Jia over his wife-to-be.
A big budget, prestige picture moving from upscale Chinese high rise cities to biscuit tin London and elegant, neo-classical Milan, My Best Friend’s Wedding is a shallow affair which attempts to cover up for its lack of soul with high production values. Shu Qi does her best and turns in another characteristically charming performance with good support from her co-stars but they can’t make up for the lack of any real connection throughout the overly glossy proceedings. A mild misfire despite its starry cast, My Best Friend’s Wedding fails on both the comedic and romantic fronts yet does offer some very pretty shots of various picturesque European locales.
Original trailer (English subtitles)