A thirtysomething woman falls for a younger colleague in this romantic drama…
Boasting an unfeasibly attractive lead couple in Shu Qi (The Assassin) and Eddie Peng (Rise of the Legend), The Last Women Standing marks the directorial debut of writer Luo Luo. Adapting her own best-seller Sheng Zhe Wei Wang for the screen, Luo Luo follows the ups and downs of an older Shanghai businesswoman falling for a younger colleague, while trying to deal with parental problems.
Shu Qi plays the 35-year-old Ru Xi, who despite being successful in business has remained single for years, a fact which worries her mother (Pang Hong) to no end and puts great strain on their relationship. Although she resists her mother’s fretting and her attempts to set her up with an eligible doctor (Xing Jiadong, 1911), insisting that she’s happy to stay on her own, everything changes when she meets Ma Sai (Eddie Peng), a charismatic and kind-hearted twentysomething new workmate. Unsure of how to handle her growing feelings for Ma Sai, Ru Xi hesitantly tries to court him, though their romance comes under pressure due to their age gap and problems with her mother’s health.
The Last Women Standing wins points for dealing with the topical issue of ‘left behind women’ in China, singletons in their late twenties or thirties who are considered in danger of being over the hill. Luo Luo does start the film off seeming like it’s aiming to tackle the subject from an unconventional angle and more of a female perspective than usual, though perhaps unsurprisingly it soon veers off into traditional romantic drama territory, with Ru Xi’s feelings for Ma Sai developing in an entirely predictable manner. Still, though Ru Xi’s journey is straightforward and generic, Luo Luo does at least make an effort not to make romantic, fairy-tale love her chief concern, and uses the supporting cast to work in a number of other social issues that are likely to be of interest to the target audience. While not exactly complicated or challenging, the film does have some meat on its bones, and isn’t nearly as vacuous as many of its peers.
The film is clearly a star vehicle, and thankfully both Shu Qi and Eddie Peng deliver exactly as required, giving the material a definite lift with sympathetic and semi-believable performances. It’s Shu Qi who really carries the film, making the thinly-written Ru Xi likeable and vaguely believable, helping to distract from the generic nature of her character arc. Although there’s no real spark between her and Peng, they’re a fun and handsome couple to watch, enough so to keep aficionados of the form happy. The supporting cast are similarly good value, Lynn Xiong (Ip Man 3) adding a bit of liveliness to the usual best friend role, and King Shih Chieh on touching form as Ru Xi’s father, who has one of the film’s standout scenes towards the end.
As a first time director Luo Luo does a perfectly creditable job, showing a solid grasp of pacing and clearly knowing which boxes to tick, and the film for the most part holds the interest despite its over-familiarity. Sadly, this is undermined by a frequent falling back on clichés, with far too many slow motion flashbacks and scenes of foolish sappiness, made worse by an ever-present melodramatic soundtrack of tinkling piano.
To be fair, this could charitably be seen as in-keeping with the film’s modest ambitions, and The Last Women Standing is an unpretentious piece of genre cinema that’s generally successful in adding a little depth and thought to the time-honoured formula. Fans of the leads won’t be disappointed, and as a romantic drama it does have a fair amount to offer the right audience, if not quite enough to mark it as having breakout appeal.