by Elaine Chu

Most of us know Zhang Ziyi from her breakout role in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The girl sure knows how to be fierce. But those of you who saw her in the romantic comedy Sophie’s Revenge, know that Zhang also has the gift to be adorkably silly onscreen.

Audiences will be delighted to see her revive the role of Sophie in her new film, My Lucky Star, a spy-themed romantic comedy that pairs her with heartthrob Wang Leehom. Sophie is an ordinary travel agent and aspiring artist who is constantly dreaming of the perfect man. By a stroke of luck, she wins an all expense paid vacation. So begins her international adventure (through Beijing, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Macau to be exact) into a dangerous game of espionage that’s complete with snazzy weapons, seductive scenarios, and evil adversaries that are bent on destroying the world.

I recently had the chance to sit down and chat with Amy Snow, one of the writers of My Lucky Star. Here’s a recap of our Q&A:

Q: There are six credited scripters on this project. What kind of collaborative process did you go through to create the final screenplay?

A: A: When I was brought in, the company already had a script, but they were looking for a re-write. Personally, I believe writing is like cooking - if you keep on adding more ingredients it doesn’t necessarily get better, so I suggested that we start again from scratch with the basic premise of a girl and a guy on an adventure, and then go from there. The only thing we kept from the original script was the name “David.” Zhang was the one who suggested we make it a Sophie movie, so we did a second rewrite with the goal of following her original character from Sophie's Revenge. I had an amazing time collaborating with an international team of talented screenwriters. Together we were able to localize the humor, but also create a story that had cross-cultural appeal."

Q: How is this film a prequel to Sophie’s Revenge?

A: After watching Sophie’s Revenge, I couldn’t imagine a sequel where she doesn’t end up with Gorden (Peter Ho), so we went with the idea of creating a prequel, a story that explores what Sophie was like before she becomes a successful, self-assured comic book artist. In Sophie’s Revenge, Sophie is nuts – she’ll do whatever it takes to get what she wants. My Lucky Star happens when Sophie is younger and is about to meet her first love. We get to see her as a dreamer who’s always in her head, and just starting to come out of her shell.

Q: How did you come up with all the zany scenarios that Sophie bumbles her way through?

A: I thought to myself - What would I want to see if I was in the audience? I didn’t want to make a “Mission Impossible” film. I wanted it to be more character driven and have Sophie do things that an ordinary girl would be capable of. So I brainstormed several ideas and showed them to the director, Dennie Gordon, and we figured out which ones would make the most sense. I think the movie is strongest when we see Sophie’s character crashing into the spy thriller genre. Take for example the scene when she’s on a 3-way call with her friends, which is a standard rom-com scenario, except we see that Sophie’s chatting away on her phone while being chased by henchmen through a shipyard.

Q: What was it like working with Zhang Ziyi?

A: She’s the Audrey Hepburn of China. She really knows how to embody a cute and quirky character. She’s also extremely talented, so it was funny trying to get her to dance poorly during the burlesque club scene. We told her to dance like someone who wasn’t trained like a ballerina, but she kept picking up the routine so quickly. We told her - you have to be way worse. The same situation happened when we shot the scene where Wang Leehom “teaches” her how to do kung fu. It was fun to get her to NOT be awesome at everything and have her imagine like she’s a normal human.

Q: The movie has a surprising number of sexual innuendos. Was it tricky getting past Chinese censors?

A: We were really concerned about censors during the writing process. We knew we had to filter our ideas through Chinese culture and follow censorship guidelines. After we shot the film we just crossed our fingers and waited, and to our surprise, practically the entire movie passed. We got to keep almost everything [except for a Kim Jong-Il gag].

Q: You’ve worked on several American romantic comedies. Were there any differences you noticed in the way China produces romcoms?

A: The more I watch Chinese cinema the less I think that they’re different. There are a huge variety of romantic comedies coming out of China, and many of them are very modern. However, I do think that the Chinese audience embraces romance in a much more pure way than audiences in the U.S. do. I’d say they’re less cynical about love. When you’re writing a romantic comedy for the U.S., you have to take into account how guarded Americans are because they’re trying to stay cool by following all these rules for dating. In contrast, with My Lucky Star any scenario that I thought would be too or romantic or cheesy was readily accepted.

We created these madcap situations, and the Chinese audience responded favorably. So we pushed a little further for comedy’s sake.But no matter how zany the film got, I did my best to make sure the story was still grounded, and kept Sophie a character that people could laugh with and relate to.

****

My Lucky Star is presented by Bona Entertainment. Released in North America courtesy of China Lion. Opens Sept. 20 in select theaters.

© 2013 Elaine Chu