My Best Friend’s Wedding (Wo zui hao peng you de hun li)

China (2016) Dir. Chen Feihong

We’re supposed to be happy for our friends, so if your very bestest friend in the whole world announces they are getting married, the last thing you do is try to sabotage the wedding out of jealousy.

Gu Jia (Shu Qi), editor-in-chief of a top Chinese fashion magazine, is on her way to Milan for the annual fashion week, when she gets a call from her childhood friend Lin Ran (Feng Shaofeng) telling her he is getting married. Gu Jia is aghast to hear this news and she always thought they would end up together despite being separated by location and work over the past few years.

Regardless, instead of heading to Milan, Gu Jia flies to London where Lin Ran works for the BBC to attend the wedding. Taking an instant dislike to Lin Ran’s fiancée Xuan Xuan (Victoria Song), a giddy girl from a rich family, Gu Jia hopes to remind Lin Ran of how much he means to her. Alas, he is devoted to Xuan Xuan, so with the help of barman Nick (Rhydian Vaughn) plots to prevent the wedding from happening.

Yes, this is a remake of the 1997 Hollywood flick starring Julia Roberts, which I have not seen so I cannot make any comparisons between the two films. And yes, I admit I only watch this film because Shu Qi is in it. By all accounts, this version of My Best Friend’s Wedding is quite different and less acerbic than the original, denoted by its U rating from the BBFC (the US version is rated 12) and its inherent vapidity.

China has been remaking Hollywood films for the past decade, putting its own cultural spin on what are universal tales, but much like when Tinsel Town remakes Asian cinema, some things get lost in translation, whilst others don’t make it all. It is ironic that the usual complaint of Hollywood ripping out the soul of the Asian original should also apply to these remakes – unless they are supposed to be this shallow.

Something about his film raises suspicions that this was part of a sponsorship deal or tax break arrangement as product placement and name-dropping is rife throughout. If it isn’t the cast coming in and out of chic shops, or carrying bags with big brand names on them, there are cameos by fashion bigwigs Christian Louboutin and Angelica Cheung, neither of whom I have ever heard of but the cast fawn over them so they must be someone.

There is also the sightseeing aspect, starting with the whistle-stop visits to all the usual London haunts (Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Parliament, Tower Bridge, London Eye, etc) via Thames riverboat or red double decker bus, and the traditional architecture of Milan for the film’s climax. Why Milan? Well, it seems Gu Jia’s plan to postpone the wedding backfires when “the cathedral” (maybe St Paul’s or maybe the film’s huge budget didn’t allow filming permission) cancelled it instead.

Not that Gu Jia was happy about this, she as mortified as Lin Ran was as she told her PA Ma Li (Ye Qing) only to postpone it, although she was in Milan deputising for Gu Jia and trying to get the fashion show running there. There appears to be something missing here in the depiction of this relationship that hints at being a comic sub plot of the lofty boss and the put upon lackey, but nothing comes of it, Shame, as Ma Li seemed like a cute character.

As you might expect, dippy Xuan Xuan warms to Gu Jia as Lin Ran’s best friend and thinks she has an ally when the pair have a row, unaware she has a rival for is love and it was Gu Jia who caused the row. Flashbacks detail this evergreen friendship, starting from their graduation days, taking in many fun times, and a trip to Milan in which Gu Jia thinks Lin Ran was proposing to her, which she rejects as they are mates only.

Very little in the way of hearty comedy is present despite the best efforts of the script and director Chen Feihong to maintain a light, frothy mood throughout. One amusing scene has Gu Jia imagine Xuan Xuan being afflicted by her peanut allergy; elsewhere, Nick – Gu Jia met him on the flight to London, and wouldn’t you know it, can speak fluent mandarin –  pretends to be gay to put Lin Ran off when the ruse of him being Gu Jia’s faux boyfriend is rumbled. This has aged badly even after just five years.

Xiao Li and Miao Yu wrote the script yet the whole thing has a twee Richard Curtis feel to it but without the forced sardonic overtones. One can predict the outcome even if they haven’t seen the original (presumably they end the same way) and the characters aren’t all that likeable per se. If Xuan Xuan wasn’t so hyper and girly, one might sympathise with her; conversely, if Lin Ran weren’t so bland, we’d agree they were made for each other.

Does this mean Gu Jia is the right option for Lin Ran all along? Personality wise maybe but their relationship is more that of siblings in Lin Ran’s eyes, and all this exercise does is make Gu Jia seem as much of spoiled brat emotionally as Xuan Xuan is financially. The only upside is she is played by Shu Qi, who reportedly wanted to make Gu Jia nastier but was overruled. She brings the glamour, the acting chops, the comedy timing, and star presence but still only elevates this to just above confection status.

Perhaps because she made the historical arthouse drama The Assassin before this film meant Shu Qi wanted an easy follow-up project and flying around Europe in swanky outfits afforded her that. My Best Friend’s Wedding wants to be a glossy, prestige film but ends up being a travelogue with an amiable story attached to it. And Shu Qi.

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