Both the Chinese and English titles of this movie promise suave men, seductive women, and sleek couture. In fact, the Chinese title is the same as that of Esquire magazine in China, and incidentally, this fashion film is backed by the company that owns it and a number of aspirational lifestyle magazines (including Cosmopolitan and NatGeo Traveler).
So you can think of Esquire Runway as a glossy moving centerfold, which is what many Mainland films aim for these days. Li Jiawu (Fong, aka the Chinese Richard Gere) is a newly instated men’s magazine editor. He mingles with A-listers, including his ex-girlfriend Ye Qing (Kong, aka the Chinese Julia Roberts), cozies up to wealthy backers in candlelit restaurants and cigar lounges, and wears diamond cufflinks because, hey, he is played by Alex Fong.
Jiawu is not particularly liked in the industry though, so when he decides to organize a male model contest, he must solicit help from Ye Qing. She agrees to be a judge but only so that she can sabotage the event. She enlists her androgynous younger sister Liaoyu (Zhang Jing) to enter with aim of embarrassing her former partner and forcing him to resign.
It’s a delightful and devious little plan until one considers the many obstacles of going Twelfth Night on an Esquire shoot. Presumably chests, of either sex, will be bared. But as this is a movie, nothing stops Liaoyu from cementing her position. In the meantime, Ye Qing reconsiders her feelings for Jiawu and reveals deeper reasons for wanting revenge on her former lover.
Sparks are slow going though, and the physical and material desires that Esquire magazine elicit are largely absent. Each scene features pretty people against pretty palettes, and there are many set details that suggest luxury. But there is not much in the script or acting to suggest intimacy, either between the characters or with the audience. Lv Yulai does a sympathetic turn as Ye Qing’s friend, assistant, and secret admirer Jianing, and Kong holds her own in a few soap opera moments (e.g. weeping over a DQ Blizzard on a lonely and rainy night). The desired effect of forwarding an affluent 21st century Mainland China is better achieved and felt by flipping through the magazine.
View the trailer here. Eason Chan’s “No Need to Speak” that plays at the end credits. (A film MV version is included on the DVD.)
Alt Title: Mr. Mode
Prod: Zhang Xiaodong 張曉冬
Dir: Qiao Liang喬粱
Writer: Jin Renshun 金仁順, Tang Xiaosong 唐小松, Zhou Zhou 周周
Cast: Alex Fong 方中信, Kong Wei 孔維, Zhang Jing 張靜, Lv Yulai 呂玉來
Time: 100 min
Country: Mainland China