All About Women is one wacky, overlong explosion of feminist, romance, fantasy weirdness that you’re either going to appreciate for its eccentricity or hate for its incoherence or, in some cases, both. The brainchild of Tsui Hark and cowriter Kwak Jae-Yong (My Sassy Girl), this two-hour film about three women and the pursuit of love is badly in need of an editor no matter how you approach it. But it also tries to hack out a new course for traditional romcoms, and such vision gets some credit given the recycled junkyard that is Hong Kong cinema these days.
In order to begin to appreciate what Tsui is doing though, you need to plow through the first hour, and this is where the film will lose most of its audience. The three main characters are introduced in a disjointed opening, beginning with scientist Fanfan (Zhou Xun), who suffers from selective sclerosis. This makes her freeze in awkward positions at awkward moments, but it’s the least of her problems. Conforming to stereotypes of socially inept scientists, Fanfan needs serious help when it comes to guys and is working on pheromone stickers that will take the clumsiness out of love. Tanglu (Kitty Zhang), meanwhile, is her opposite. Also embracing a familiar archetype, this sexy, power dressing she-devil renders men useless whenever she marches down the corridor. She closes deals but worries that her beauty is bad for business and that she is not being taken seriously. Last up is Tieling (Guey Lun-Mei), the scrappy, emo rock-chick-poet-boxer of the group. She also has a long-term imaginary relationship with model X (Godfrey Gao) because a) it makes sense later on, and b) who wouldn’t?
It’s a madhouse as these eccentric personalities scramble around their professional and love lives. Increasingly, their paths intersect. Fanfan sets her eyes on a moody rocker (Stephen Fung) whose backside resembles the last subject of her infatuation. He happens to work with Tieling, while she has caught the attention of Tanglu’s meek assistant, Qiyan (Eddie Peng). It isn’t until some of these characters literally crash into each other that the story seems to gain momentum. A mix-up involving Fanfan’s pheromone stickers results in some Midsummer’s Night-like consequences that have the three women questioning what they want out of a partner and of love.
The characters that Tsui and Kwak craft don’t exactly pass the Bechdel test, but they end up being more than the sum of their quirks. This is due in part to the strength of the writing and directing, which eventually move beyond sheer absurdities. The film’s latter half is a lot more challenging than the usual “will they or won’t they” scenario precisely because the love matches have been manipulated by Fanfan’s patches. Each character in her own way is trying to distill love into one formula, whether it be in chemical form or as a romanticized ideal. However, they find that the heart can’t be simplified.
There’s a fair amount of offbeat humor in this, and the actresses get a lot of credit for adding a sympathetic dimension to their parts that is not found in the script. Despite her character’s robotic nature, Zhou is surprisingly funny and at ease with her eccentric role. I was also impressed by Zhang’s ability to turn Tanglu into more than a shrill maneater, and Guey similarly made Tieling’s romantic fantasy seem endearing rather than obsessive.
Considering the movie is called All About Women, it might be expected that the love stories suffer. The male characters get a bit of space to pine or sulk – or in the cases of Gao and Alex Fong Chung-Sun, look flawless and unattainable, but the overall chemistry between the sexes is hit and miss. Much like the rest of the film. Demanding audiences may be more appreciative of the effort and more willing to dig to find the characters, but it retains the feel of an experimental piece, albeit a fresh and fun one, that needs more workshopping.
Prod: Tsui Hark 徐克; Huang Jianxin 黃建新; Nansun Shi 施南生; Elvis Lee 李程
Dir: Tsui Hark 徐克
Writer: Tsui Hark 徐克; Kwak Jae-Yong 곽재용
Cast: Zhou Xun 周迅; Kitty Zhang 張雨綺; Guey Lun-Mei 桂綸鎂; Alex Fong Chung-Sun 方中信; Stephen Fung 馮德倫; Godfrey Gao 高以翔; Shen Chang 沈暢; Eddie Peng 彭于晏
Time: 120 min
Country: Hong Kong/Mainland China