China, 2016, colour, 2.35:1, 101 mins.
Director: An Byeong-gi 안병기 | 安兵基.
Faithful remake of the hit South Korean comedy has great lead chemistry but a shakier second half.
Beijing, the present day. Onetime pop singer, now host of the radio phone-in show 说三道四 (“Sharp Talk”), the egocentric, self-obsessed He Zhiwu (Tong Dawei) leads an ordered and high-end bachelor lifestyle, and now has his career sights set on acting. A popular part of his afternoon show are the posts by the pseudonymous Tangguo (Chen Yanxi), a single mother in Fujian province who is currently looking for her father. Because it’s good for his ratings, He Zhiwu has encouraged her to use his show, and she phones in to say she is now in Beijing. That evening she turns up on his doorstep, announcing herself as Tang Huiru, 20, along with her five-year-old son, Tang Jiadong (Lv Yuncong). She says she is the daughter of Tang Wanjun, a girl with whom He Zhiwu had sex when he was 17 on a visit to his grandfather in Fujian. He is, therefore, her father. He Zhiwu grudgingly lets the two of them stay the night and next day gets his former singing partner, who’s now a vet, to do a paternity test on her. The results, however, will take 10 days, so He Zhiwu allows them to stay on in his flat if they abide by some ground rules. The test proves positive. But with Tangguo no longer phoning in on He Zhiwu’s show, ratings plummet, and his producer (Peng Ziheng) insists he finds her. Not wanting the truth to get out, He Zhiwu starts inventing posts by Tangguo. She then reappears, as a candidate on the radio station’s Super Dream talent show, and amazes everyone with her singing. Meanwhile, He Zhiwu has fallen for Tang Jiadong’s kindergarten teacher, Su Xi (Wen Xin), and uses the boy to court her. But then an old boyfriend from Tang Huiru’s past, Shang Yuan (Liu Ruilin), turns up in Beijing after six years.
Mainland actor Tong Dawei 佟大为 and Taiwan actress Chen Yanxi 陈妍希 [Michelle Chen] make great comedy music together in Scandal Maker 外公芳龄38, in which a bachelor radio host suddenly discovers he has a daughter from a one-night stand two decades ago. A faithful remake of the 2008 South Korean mega-hit Scandal Makers 과속스캔들, written and directed by Gang Hyeong-cheol 강형철 | 姜烔哲, the story has been painlessly relocated from Seoul to Beijing but directed not by a Chinese film-maker but by a South Korean – An Byeong-gi 안병기 | 安兵基, 49, whose career in China so far has been three Bunshinsaba horrors (2012-14) based on his Korean original. It’s a smooth career switch by An who, using his regular Chinese art director Zhang Yu 张雨 but new Korean d.p. Yi Seung-jae 이승재 | 李承宰, comes up with a bright, glossy package that’s populated by some relaxed and infectious playing by the whole cast.
Chen’s Taiwan accent is simply taken care of by making her come from the southern province of Fujian, thus allowing her to voice her own part to the ensemble’s advantage. Chen, 33, is no stranger to playing younger than she is, but here, playing a 20-year-old raggedy mum, she still manages to surprise, not only in convincingly playing the age but also in blooming into a sophisticated young singer after a change of wardrobe. Chen has often been too low-key for her own good, but in Scandal Maker she blooms, projecting herself with assurance from country bumpkin to poised performer, meeting co-star Tong Dawei blow for blow. As the egocentric bachelor in his late 30s who finds he has not just a daughter but also a grand-son – the Chinese title roughly means “Grandad’s Only 38” – Tong, 37, also blooms in a part he couldn’t have played even a couple of years ago, and is especially good at double-takes. Though there’s only four years between the actors’ ages, the 18-year difference between their characters is just about believable. (In the Korean original, the male lead, 32-year-old Cha Tae-hyeon 차태현 | 车太贤, looked too young for the part and the female lead, Bak Bo-yeong 박보영 | 朴宝英, was only 18 at time of shooting.)
However, because the performances are so spirited – with six-year-old Lv Yuncong 吕云骢 very good as the smart, unbratty kid, especially in scenes with Tong – questions like verisimilitude don’t really come into play, at least in the film’s first half which, like the Korean original, swings smoothly along on the high concept, plot mechanisms and leads’ excellent chemistry. Though it steers clear of family gooiness, the second half is more problematic, as some rather forced developments almost derail the flimsy plot, prior to a song-contest finale that doesn’t satisfy as a resolution to the story. The Korean original managed to stay pretty much on course, but the momentum of the Chinese remake is shakier, losing the film a point overall.
Supporting roles are all solid, with the most likeable being the radio host’s production team. As the pretty kindergarten teacher to whom he takes a liking, Wen Xin 温心 is suitably winsome but doesn’t register much in what is only a token role. Apart from the final one, the songs are catchy. However, despite its cast and pedigree, the film performed weakly in China, grossing only RMB60 million, little more than the first of An’s Bunshinsaba trio (RMB58 million). The Korean original, released in China in 2009 as 非常主播, grossed RMB14 million.
Presented by Gravity Pictures Film Production (CN), Wanda Media (CN), Capriccio Pictures (CN), Gosh Film Entertainment (CN), ADD Star International Film Culture Media (Beijing) (CN), Tencent Penguin Pictures (Shanghai) (CN), Aim Media (CN), Gookee Beijing Information Technology (CN), Tianjin Sun Seven Stars Culture Development (CN). Produced by Wanda Media (CN), Beijing Gosh Film (CN), Gosh Film Entertainment (CN).
Script: Cui Sitan [Tristan Jian]. Original script: Gang Hyeong-cheol. Photography: Yi Seong-jae. Editing: Wang Gang. Music: Ji Yuan, Wang Na’na. Art direction: Zhang Yu. Costume design: Yi Seok-ho. Sound: Wang Yanwei, Liu Yang. Visual effects: Gang Min-jeong (Moneff). Executive dorection: Gim Jang-mi.
Cast: Tong Dawei (He Zhiwu), Chen Yanxi [Michelle Chen] (Tang Huiru/Tangguo/Candy), Lv Yuncong (Tang Jiadong), Pan Binlong (Gao Feng), Liu Ruilin (Shang Yuan), Li Xiaochuan (Cui Sitan, reporter), Zhao Longhao (Li Changheng), Peng Ziheng (Xiaowu, programme director), Wen Xin (Su Xi, teacher), Zhang Youhao (assistant director), Li Weijian (radio-station head), Li Yu (film director), Li Jing (Xu Yonghao, missing actor), Lian Meng, Jian Siyao (scriptwriters), Xu Jingying (Li Jingna), Wei Xiaoxia (shop assistant), Liu Sibo (wedding-shop manager), Lv Jiarong (TV presenter), Song Bingyang (male singer), Lin Yu (news-conference host), Jin Siwen, Chen Yingzi (girl group), Li Lixian, Teng Fei.
Release: China, 11 Nov 2016.