My Dream Girl (2003)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-04-03
“My Dream Girl” is a relentlessly upbeat, annoyingly straightforward and barely watchable attempt at a romantic comedy that is rescued from the scrap pile by the terrific performance of Vicki Zhou Wei and the striking beauty of Niki Chow Lai-Kei. It is clear from the beginning that Joe Lam (Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin) and Cheung Ling (Zhou Wei), his current project, are destined for each other. There will be difficulties for them along the way and the audience wants to identify with either or both of them as they work closer to each other. But this isn’t “Pygmalion” and Joe Lam is no Henry Higgins. Cheung Ling, however, is a credible replacement for Eliza Doolittle.

Joe Lam is at the apex of several triangles. The most obvious one is among Joe, Winnie (Bernice Jan Liu) and Tim Lee (Mark Lui Chung-Tak ) Winnie’s secret lover. Another is the triangle of Joe and Cheung Ling at two points and Cheung Ling’s former happy-go-lucky life as a truck driver surrounded by eccentric friends. There is one that Joe and Cheung Ling with Cheung Tin (Richard Ng in a typically note-perfect performance) her father whose idea of the perfect life for his daughter is far from hers. There is still another triangle with the two of them and Cheung Ling’s new boyfriend—that happens late in the movie and is there only to be quickly resolved.

Two couples who are not the primary focus of the movie are the most interesting, even though the final outcome of their relationships is as foreordained as that of Joe and Ling. Winnie, even though she is a cheating spouse/girlfriend, is an engaging and wacky character. Even though she has a great time with Tim she is unwilling to end her relationship with Joe until Joe is able to find a job and climb out of his depression.

Mr. Tong is obsequious to his boss and domineering to his underlings but since he isn’t very good at either doing either one he is more ridiculous than malicious. His opposite number Ms. Zhu (Leung Ching) is officious but often flustered by anything out of her normal routine. Both characters wear glasses—and not frameless spectacles that show that one is fashionable—and Mr. Tong is overweight. Their conflicts and personality quirks get worked out over the course of the movie and with a bit of help from the boss, Cheung Tin. Before they clinch Ms. Zhu performs her transformation from meek office drone to glamorous babe by taking off her glasses and shaking out her hair. Mr. Tong takes off his glasses but remains fat. These two characters lend a needed comic impetus to a lot of scenes—they are good foils but also are human enough for the audience to begin to like them.

The other couple, Winnie and Tim, are louder, more sensuous (they can’t keep their hands off each other) and less connected to the main story. They provide the only really funny scene in the film when they are discovered in Joe’s Hong Kong apartment by Joe and Ling. Joe doesn’t know Tim, Ling doesn’t know Tim or Winnie (nor they her) and neither Joe nor Ling know that the other is in the apartment. There is some well directed and executed semi-slapstick with mistaken identities, near discoveries and confused running around with Winnie and Ling trying to hide under the same small table.

Unfortunately for the viewer the rest of the movie is not at the same level. It is all but impossible to identify or empathize with Joe—he simply isn’t a very likable person. He is dull and irritating and stays that way until the last few minutes of the movie. By then the audience has lost interest in him. Vicky Zhou Wei’s character has its own problems. She lives in a Shanghai slum, surrounded by friends who share everything and act lovable, as poor people must in a movie like this. The alternative, which she at first rebels against, is being reunited with a loving, doting father who is a billionaire and whose parties are attended by the cream of society and the foreign diplomatic corps of Shanghai. She can spend as much money as she wants and is mentored by a (supposed) professional in the make-over business. Like when she was driving a truck in the slums she is the center of a group of people who want to protect and encourage her. While she does have a few embarrassing moments they are a bit too obviously contrived for us to worry about her feelings.

Most contrived of all, though, is the meeting between Joe and Ms. Yeung, a former girlfriend who he apparently treated abominably when they were together. She is now a world famous make-over specialist and he approaches her in a desperate attempt to keep from being fired and disgraced. She forgives him after a sincere apology—Ekin Cheng’s best scene by far—and in a couple of hours transforms him from a self-centered jerk to a caring Mr. Nice Guy.
Which is, of course, the point of the movie and its main theme—in order to help another person change you have to be able to fundamentally change yourself. You can’t assist someone else in doing something that you haven’t done or are unable to do. Which is a lovely sentiment but nice thoughts alone don’t make good movies.

“My Dream Girl” looks great. Cinematographer Ko Chiu-Lam and art director Silver Cheung Sai-Wang have shot and designed a lot of movies. The surfaces of this one gleam although the some of the sets seem incongruously neat and clean. The apartment in which Joe, Winnie, Tim and Ling chase each other around and bump into each other was ingeniously set up using only what one would normally have such a setting—doors, windows, a table with a tablecloth, a slightly oversized chair.

Looking especially great are the actresses. I would pay to see and hear Vicky Zhao Wei read the Shanghai phone book, Niki Chow is almost too perfectly beautiful and I would love to see more of Leung Ching who has only one other credit in the HKMDB.

Not recommended, but everyone looks so good and is trying so hard it is impossible to completely dislike.
Reviewer Score: 4