17 July 2010 | DICK STEEL
A Nutshell Review: The Fantastic Water Babes
Despite its title, there's rarely a fantastic moment in the film, the swimming pool featured only in a small handful of scenes including one really out of this world computer generated effects extravaganza that was really out of place, and in reality having not too many babes in the film. So I guess that's three strikes against what it's trying to sell, and it just goes to show that writer-director Jeff Lau does blow hot and cold, especially the latter for this film when it had to sit in limbo for two years while waiting for main lead Gillian Chung's scandal to blow over.
But I suppose it didn't matter. While Hong Kong comedies can afford to have no coherent narrative and can sprawl all over the place, I think Jeff Lau's effort here really takes the cake and can probably be archived to film schools as how one should never make a film. Putting together an eye candy cast does not make a hit, especially when there's hardly a semblance of a story. As a comedy the jokes mostly fell flat, as a romance the leads share little chemistry, and one can only wonder what the director had wanted to achieve out of this, other than pay homage to Cheung Chau, one of Hong Kong's outlying islands.
Simply put, it tells the story of Gillian (Chung), a native of Cheung Chau, who believes that she has had an encounter with a deity, and is granted supernatural powers. The first few minutes of the film tries to establish this fact in a really unfunny sequence, after she gets into trouble with a rival who had sown the seed of jealousy, and as revenge, she wants to go one up against her in a hastily organized 4 x 100m swimming relay. Embroiled into the mix is the swim king of Asia, Chi (Alex Fong), who gets kidnapped by Gillian and her gang so as to learn some swimming techniques from him, to his reluctance of course, since he's a captive against his will.
Don't expect a Waterboys equivalent, or a typical Japanese zero to hero story, because this film is just not that. There's little focus on the swimming aspects, so any thoughts of a training montage gets thrown out of the window after an obligatory one. Instead, Jeff Lau tries to explore the various characters and their motivations, from the romantic to the ethical, drawing broad strokes in insinuating that city dwellers are always scheming to make money, and have absolutely zero morals in that singular pursuit, while the village people are sincere, honest and trustworthy. Between the two lead characters in Gillian and Chi, the theme of hypocritical behaviour get broached, but only barely, while leaving the rest of the characters in support mode, without clear direction other than to be fodder for anything the writer/director so decides.
Comedy-wise, this is probably one of Jeff Lau's weakest offering, since the jokes are nary funny, and relied on gimmicky aspects already exploited to death in the hey days of Hong Kong comedy cinema. Don't expect any laugh-a-minute, and worse, some of these perceived comical aspects just made the storyline even more incoherent with fantastical elements thrown in that more often than not, backfire. Perhaps the only saving grace is Stephen Fung's character, whose sole appearance alone in drag will elicit much needed laughter, because his limited cameo in earlier scenes were just plain scenery, or an improvised Mahjong scene that I thought would have been better had the language of the film shown here be in its original Cantonese track.
Like Sniper, this is one film that's a blast from the past that had to await until audience sentiments of the scandal blows over, before making a cinema debut. After all, some costs recouped is better than none at all, so don't go to this expecting to see something rip-roaring funny.