Women from Mars (當男人變成女人)

women from mars

Most Hong Kong movies that comment on gender roles and relations tend to offend my feminist sensibilities, to say nothing of the ones that purposely seize on sexist stereotypes. Women From Mars plays to expectations and does what such films do best – purport to share an enlightened opinion on gender and relationships while reaffirming traditional views in reality. You can almost always expect the man to get his comeuppance. It’s an attempt to show that the male writers, directors, and producers who populate the industry are forward thinking blokes who “get” women and who are self-aware of sexism in society and in their films. It seems, however, that the apologetic tone is more of an excuse to push sexist rubbish onto eager audiences than to atone for past wrongs. After all, this plot device keeps the focus on male character development and leaves women to be mere vehicles for which guys can discover and become their truer, better selves.

I had fleeting hopes that Women From Mars would at least be a humorous exercise with an ever slight potential of satire. A trio of insensitive, philandering men take the scary bus to hell only to win a reprieve and pop back up to earth, sans the family jewels. In order to win back them back, their girlfriends must sincerely declare their love within the month. Think Beauty and the Beast, but with graver consequences. However, the movie manages further insult by not being funny. Worse, it is fifty shades of dull.

Too much time is wasted on chatty exposition, which happens when bad ideas turn into movies. The three poorly drawn characters spend half an hour talking their way into revealing what jerks they are. Tom Kan (Ekin Cheng) is a celebrity hair stylist but spends more time trying to pick up girls than he does cutting hair. Bo (Cheung Tat-Ming), a pet store owner, is perhaps even more unsavory; he preys on women’s naturally sympathetic and gullible nature so that they will buy his animals. His cousin Michael (Michael Wong) at least has a steady girlfriend, Ruby (Ruby Wong), but he comes from some plot-device village where men take care of the thinking and decision-making and women can just shut their pie holes and cover them up with a face mask.

Their behavior is sleazy, aggravating, and juvenile, but sending them to hell to get their parts nipped seems drastic and somewhat pointless. These are not men particularly attuned to their misbehaviors to begin with, and some devilish tomfoolery does little to improve their powers of perception. Indeed, Tom, Bo, and Michael try to cheat their way into getting their ding-a-lings reattached and without giving serious thought to how they ended up in this predicament. The monotony of their pursuit is broken up by a spiteful, cross dressing radio DJ (Wayne Lai) and a station manager (Francis Ng). They appear a lot and don’t do anything important, their main purpose being to set up a big reveal.

A few gags help push the boys along the path to enlightenment but these better succeed in patronizing women. Without their pricks, the three find themselves increasingly prone to self-doubt, mood swings, and a fear of cockroaches. They curl up on a couch and lament their lack of literal and figurative balls. When they predictably get a real taste of womanhood, as defined by the writers, they at last recognize what an emotional and physical slog it is to be female.

The primary effect here is to show that the fairer sex are overly sensitive creatures. Better to have a real man who knows how to tend to their insecurities and needs. This stands in contrast to the girlfriends who, to the writers’ credit, come off as well adjusted adults, albeit with an unusually forgiving taste in partners. Ruby gets the most screentime and exhibits none of the stereotyped histrionics that the men (as women) do.

Still, there’s an air of exceptional tolerance. The film suggests that a few turns in a girls’ room queue and some sympathetic remarks about pregnancy can go a long way in helping guys understand how the other half lives. It’s tidy, reductive and only helps rein in the chauvinistic beasts in the movie world. It’s also bad entertainment.

Released: 2002
Prod: Manfred Wong 文雋; Frankie Ng 吳志雄
Dir: Andrew Lau 劉偉強; Raymond Yip 葉偉民
Writer: Manfred Wong 文雋; Chau Ting 秋婷; Matt Chow 鄒凱光
Cast: Ekin Cheng 鄭伊健; Michael Wong 王敏德; Cheung Tat-Ming 張達明; Audrey Fang 方子璇; Louis Koo 古天樂; Ruby Wong 黃卓玲; Shu Qi 舒淇; Stephen Fung 馮德倫; Kristy Yeung 楊恭如; Pinky Cheung 張文慈; Francis Ng 吳鎮宇; Wayne Lai 黎耀祥; Qu Ying 瞿穎; Josie Ho 何超儀; Bobo Chan 陳文媛; Wilson Yip 葉偉信; Joe Ma 馬偉豪; Jerry Lamb 林曉峰; Roy Cheung 張耀揚; Michael Tse 謝天華; Amanda Lee 李蕙敏; Lam Tze-Chung 林子聰; Angela Tong 湯盈盈; Kingdom Yuen 苑瓊丹; Belinda Hamnett 韓君婷
Time: 92 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014