Reviews

Udine 2010: ‘Sophie’s Revenge’ review

★★★★☆

Conforming to the usual fun-filled predictability of the romantic-comedy genre, as well as the big budget aesthetics and laugh out loud humour associated with lead actress/director Eva Jin, Sophie’s Revenge (2009) shows us that whatever Hollywood can do Asian Cinema can more than match. Whether you consider this ethos as positive or negative will largely determine how you will feel after having viewed Sophie’s Revenge.

Zhang Ziyi plays Sophie, a fanatical young author in turmoil after a break up with her fiancé Jeff (South Korean actor So Ji-sub). Sophie spends her day’s obsessing and spying on Jeff and his new film-star girlfriend Joanna (Bingbing Fan). After a proposal from her publisher and best friend Lucy (Ruby Lin), Sophie plots to split the new couple whilst simultaneously writing about the revenge for her next book. However, things start to complicate when she meets Taiwanese photographer Gorden (Peter Ho), who quickly finds himself absorbed into Sophie’s games.

With her ingenious (yet cruel) plans for breaking up the ‘happy couple’, Sophie’s character quickly becomes the perfect illustration of the archetypal ‘obsessive ex-girlfriend’, given much-needed depth through Ziyi’s emotionally frail performance. Ziyi brings a boundless and quirky energy to the central role of Sophie, a stark departure from her oft-dour on-screen personas in the lavish films of Zhang Yimou and Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046 (2004).

From the very start of the film, you are thrown head-long into Sophie’s weird and wonderful world, with her morally-implicated day dreams and eccentric personality played out literally on-screen through a variety of clever visual devices (including animated sequences and CGI imagery). Rather than detract, Eva Jin uses these techniques to draw the viewer into Sophie’s mind, and you can’t help but will her to succeed as she creates more and more mischief for the young lovers.

The film’s hilarious dialogue and stunning visuals move you, with pleasurable ease, through a conventional narrative arc following a young, vulnerable girl who thinks she knows what she wants. You may well have seen this story countless times before; however, to the credit of director Eva Jin, it all seems somehow refreshing and (dare I say) innovative. In comparison to the Tartan Asia Extreme releases which now saturate the western market, Sophie’s Revenge is a breathe of fresh air (and for all the right reasons). It was a pleasure to see this Chinese/South Korean collaboration cut loose from western expectations and perfectly illustrate the light, breezy and playful side of Asian cinema (for a further example, see Park Chan-wook’s I’m a Cyborg [2006] ).

Whilst arguably largely derivative of the Hollywood ‘Rom-Com’ cycle, Eva Jin’s impressive direction and Zhang Ziyi’s multi-faceted performance sets Sophie’s Revenge aside from the pack, which can only be positive for future re-evaluations of Asian Cinema as a whole.


Oliver Sharpe (CUEAFS)