Zhou Xun a delight in Women Who Flirt

Women Who Flirt's (from far left) Zhou Xun, Sonia Sui and Huang Xiaoming.
Women Who Flirt's (from far left) Zhou Xun, Sonia Sui and Huang Xiaoming.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Actress Zhou Xun's turn as a woman who learns to flirt to win her man is an unexpected and delightful performance

Review Romance comedy

WOMEN WHO FLIRT (PG13)

97 minutes/Opens tomorrow/***1/2

The story: Shanghai urbanite Zhang Hui (Zhou Xun) has been pining for her colleague Gong Zhiqiang (Huang Xiaoming) since they were university classmates. When he falls for a Taiwanese girl Bei Bei (Sonia Sui), Zhang turns to her good friend (Evonne Sie) for tips on flirting and getting her man. Inspired by the advice book Everyone Loves Tender Woman.

China actress Zhou Xun is not a girly girl.

She looks like she could be one, with those big doe eyes and that petite frame. But when she opens her mouth to speak, it is a husky voice and not some delicate coo.

That unexpected juxtaposition has served her well in the movies in which she played an enigmatic beauty in mermaid costume (Suzhou River, 2000), temptress demon (Painted Skin, 2008) and even masked hero (Flying Swords Of Dragon Gate, 2011).

Here, Huang Xiaoming's Zhiqiang pretty much sees her character Hui as a bro.

But act cute? That is a side of Zhou cinemagoers rarely get to see and it is one of the pleasures of the film. It is not a juicy dramatic role and it might not win her any awards, but her performance here is a charming turn that is a worthy addition to her body of work.

While the title translates "sajiao" as flirting, the term is actually a specific type of flirting in which acting cute is paramount and the arsenal of weapons employed includes, but is not limited to, pouting, baby talk and the fluttering of eyelashes.

Zhou seems a little embarrassed when she tries to master the art of saying "taoyan" (literally, I hate you) in a coquettish manner, but that only strikes the perfect note for her character.

After all, this is war and, like it or not, the clash is on. It is not just a matter of Hui versus Bei Bei, but of Shanghai girls versus Taiwanese girls. The stakes are not just personal.

Gamely embodying the worst cliches about Taiwanese women is Sonia Sui, star of TV dramas such as The Fierce Wife (2010). So good is she at playing the helpless, hapless damsel that she has Zhiqiang completely under her thumb.

While the dialogue is more sparkling in writer-director Pang Ho Cheung's movies in which he employs his native Cantonese compared with the Mandarin banter here, he invigorates the often dismal genre of romantic comedy with some much needed life.

With Hui and Zhiqiang, he has created yet another indelible modern-day couple after Cherie (Miriam Yeung) and Jimmy (Shawn Yue) in Love In A Puff (2010) and Love In The Buff (2012), in which they navigate the tricky waters of modern love.

Cherie and Jimmy are perhaps more well-rounded - Zhiqiang is a little underwritten, given that the focus is on Hui.

bchan@sph.com.sg