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My Dream Girl

Ekin Cheng, Vicki Zhao and Rico Kwok on a lobby card for My Dream Girl.
Year: 2003
Director: Raymond Wip Wai-Man
Writer: Chan Hing-Kai, Lee Po-Cheung
Cast: Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin, Vicki Zhao Wei, Vincent Kok Tak-Chiu, Richard Ng Yiu-Hon, Nicole Liang Jing, Mark Lui Chun-Tak, Bernice Liu Bik-Yi, Niki Chow Lai-Kei, Cheung Tat-Ming, Rico Kwok Lik-Hung
The Skinny: Not good at all. There is some minor amusement in this motion picture but the time and slumber-inducing inanity it takes to get there is probably more than even the most generous Ekin Cheng or Vicki Zhao fans could muster. A startlingly unfunny romantic comedy.
by Kozo:

     Okay, what happened to My Dream Girl? This Raymond Yip-directed update of the classic Pygmalion story looked to have something going for it. Ekin Cheng—who showed some comic charm in last year's My Wife is 18—probably could have done decently as an urban Hong Kong version of Henry Higgins. Vicki Zhao could have brought grace and spunk to a Shanghai version of Eliza Doolittle. And the audience could have been treated to a film equal parts popstar worship, comedy of manners, and sly cultural commentary. Heck, they could have lifted Bernard Shaw's original story in its entirety, excised its exploration of human interaction, and they still probably could have made a fun movie. But sadly, that just didn't happen.
     Ekin Cheng stars as Joe Lam, a Hong Kong lady-killer who prides himself on his amoral swindling and generally annoying ways. Unemployed for nine months, he's lived off his girlfriend (Bernice Liu), who in fact is seeing some guy named Tim (Mark Lui) on the side. Still, despite the fact that he's an overconfident, irresponsible lout, she can't break his heart, and refuses to break up with him—for now. Luckily, Joe finds a job that requires him to split town for a good three months, meaning she and Tim can play around as much as they like. Joe's headed to Shanghai to work for Mr. Cheung (Richard Ng) as an image consultant. Never mind that Joe has zero experience; he's obviously much more capable than the other choice, a chef played by Cheung Tat-Ming. Thanks to his stylish head of hair and generally decent way with fashion, Joe has his meal ticket.
     However, Joe's main assignment is a bit more difficult than just color-coordination. He's assigned to make Cheung's long-lost daughter Ning (Vicki Zhao) into a presentable family member for Cheung's upper-class society functions. But Joe puts on a power play, and states that Ning is beyond help, because she has no manners, unkempt hair and apparently no bathing habits. The goal of such an act: a tripling of his salary. You'd think that a guy with no actual credentials and zero experience wouldn't be able to get his way, but Joe gets the increased salary, as well as cart blanche with a credit card. It helps that Joe runs into Ning before his interview, and she's immediately smitten by him, thereby putting her in his corner for continued employment. It also helps that Cheung's number two is a Hong Kong expatriate (Vincent Kok) who desires to make Hong Kong people look good—even when they're into vile chicanery like Joe. And, it helps that Joe is played by Ekin Cheng. With his dashing good looks and boyishly suave charm, wouldn't anyone—man or woman—fall for his wacky schemes?
     My Dream Girl would have us believe that yes, they would. However, as supposedly intelligent, rational audience members we would hopefully see differently. Not only is Joe's scheming totally transparent and obvious, but he possesses zero image design skills. The filmmakers attempt to create "comedy" by having Joe dress up Ning in a disturbingly awful series of terrible hairstyles and costumes, all under the notion that he's doing his job to make her a more presentable person. He also gives her minor lessons in manners that seem surprisingly genuine, but Ning's gradual metamorphosis from downtrodden flower to elegant blossom can't muster the minimum credibility requirement of a Hong Kong journalist. To wit: the film's situation, and all its accompanying baggage (character, story, dialogue) are not convincing in any way, whatsoever. It just doesn't compute.
     Let's take a look at how the film is startlingly unbelievable. 1) Joe is a lousy image designer, and makes Ning look bad in every way possible, but he isn't fired in the millisecond that such poor job performance would merit. 2) Ning is totally enamored of Joe at first sight, even though he's clearly a swindler and his only saving grace is that he looks like Ekin Cheng. 3) All the side characters go out of their way to enable Joe's screwy ways, thus leaving his eventual comeuppance to be the product of an amazing epiphany on how he's really not such a great guy. 4) Joe's epiphany has zero development, and seems to appear out of nowhere simply because the script asks that it does. 5) The eventual success (and we're not spoiling the movie by telling you this) of Ning's transformation is not the result of newly-applied effort by either Joe or Ning, but by the brilliant use of somebody who actually knows how to make somebody look good. And by that, we mean a real image consultant, or maybe just a hairdresser who reads the right magazines and realizes a simple hairstyle will bring out Vicki Zhao's natural beauty. They sure wouldn't give her a terrible Tammy Faye Bakker 'do, which Joe Lam actually does. And there's the biggest problem of all. 6) How could somebody who looks (and even occasionally dresses) like a male model make such egregious errors in fashion sense? Was he trying to get fired? Who the hell knows?
     At this point, it should be plainly obvious: five monkeys and Wong Jing could have teamed to write a better script than this 12-page synopsis of doom, which is strangely credited to one of Hong Kong's "great" screenwriters,
Chan Hing-Kai. Chan has been known recently for stretching the bounds of existentialism (see Born Wild or Mighty Baby to see what we're talking about), but his work here (co-credited with Lee Po-Cheung) is just plain terrible. What reason is there to care about anyone here? Does anyone create a credible character? Do we care if Vincent Kok gets it on with frumpy secretary Liang Jing? And does Joe Lam's eventual desire to be a good guy merit any sympathy whatsoever? The changes and gooey epiphanies experienced by nearly the entire cast don't seem to add up. It's like the script for this film was written in one weekend with a set of "key point" flash cards as a guide. Everything between the flash cards became filler, and all that filler turned out boring or strangely unfunny. Either way you slice it, this is one bad movie.
     With all the above in mind, it's hard to even see any positives. There are minor nuggets of wisdom extolling the virtues of Hong Kong people at trying their hardest and doing their best, but they're oddly out of place or even cloying. Ostensibly, Joe's turnaround is an example of this, and should be commended as a result. Ekin Cheng does a decent job playing a likable shark, and he even seems to project some appropriate self-loathing into his character. But it's all for nothing. Vicki Zhao is pretty much a static figure here, and doesn't do much more than act silly and look pretty or ugly depending on which physical state the script calls for. The supporting characters are uninteresting or annoying, and Raymond Yip directs the film with all the manipulative touches that he can muster. If he succeeded and actually converted a mass audience, then he should have been given the title of "Greatest Director Ever." At this point, "Outmatched Stooge" would probably be the best title, as this script would have doomed Johnnie To or Wong Kar-Wai—even if they had worked together. My Dream Girl may be palatable to the most forgiving Ekin Cheng or Vicki Zhao fans, but for everyone else it's pretty much a nightmare. (Kozo 2003)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Universe Laser
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Making Of Featurette, Trailers
image courtesy of Universe Film Production Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen