China, 2016, colour, 2.35:1, 87 mins.
Director: Sen Dao 森岛.
Corkscrew crime caper, set in South Korea, has a good script and performances but nothing new.
Jeju island, South Korea. Middle-aged Mei Dazhi (Chen Xiaochun), originally from Hong Kong, works for a casino, doing anything from money laundering to scamming gamblers. He has a much younger wife from China, An Jing (Deng Jiajia). Unbeknown to An Jing, her elder sister, schoolteacher An Ning (Xu Ouyi), offers the Yuan dynasty Phoenix Mirror, valued at US$10 million, to Hong Kong gangster Bai Chuxiong (Wu Qihua). He already has its companion Dragon Mirror; together the two will be worth US$40 million, and reputedly, when united into one, will summon up the spirit of their original owner, empress Qi, who fled to Korea when the Yuan dynasty was overthrown. Bai Chuxiong gets his assistant Thirteen (Zhu Danqing) to hire a South Korean hitman for HK$2 million to kill An Ning as soon as she hands over the Phoenix Mirror. Thirteen calls his friend, Seoul gangster Myeong-cheol (Bak Mun-heui). The handover, at night near a church in Jeju, goes badly when a running man bumps into the hitman. An Ning and the actual owner of the Phoenix Mirror, her student Zaizai (Lu Jinjie), run for it, chased by the hitman. Some time later, the hitman sends Bai Chuxiong a picture of the dead An Ning and says he has the Phoenix Mirror. Bai Chuxiong says he’ll collect it the next day in Jeju. (The hitman is actually Cha Gi-beom [Yi Beom-su], a film make-up artist from Seoul who was in debt to Myeong-cheol and was forced to pose in the role.) Earlier that day Thirteen arrives in Jeju with the HK$2 million payment for Myeong-cheol and is met at the airport by Mei Dazhi, who’s an old friend. Also arriving at the same time are Cha Gi-beom from Seoul and a young married couple from Beijing, antiques appraiser Hao Dongdong (Wang Dongcheng) and his wife Guoguo (Zhang Xiaojue). The latter get to know An Jing while gambling in a casino; after teaming up, however, An Jing starts losing badly and all three are taken hostage by Gangdan (He Jun), who happens to be the Chinese right-hand man of Myeong-cheol as well as Mei Dazhi’s sleazy younger brother. Meanwhile, Thirteen has been gambling the HK$2 million and won ₩1 billion, exactly the amount being demanded by Gangdan in ransom from his elder brother. Mei Dazhi asks Thirteen if he can borrow the ₩1 billion bearer cheque, but Thirteen makes a run for it, setting off another chain of events.
A corkscrew caper in the post-Crazy Stone 疯狂的石头 (2006) mould, Foolish Plan 呆呆计划 doesn’t run out of puff halfway (like so many of its ilk) and just about maintains interest thanks to its cast. But despite a script that shows signs of being well-worked, and actually makes sense in a wacky way, there’s not enough new or special here to make it stand out from the pack, and there’s a lack of final polish and big-name cast to make it stand alongside the best representatives of the genre. Financed, written and directed by Mainlanders, and set on South Korea’s “honeymoon island” Jeju, it features a couple of South Koreans among the Chinese cast and was in large part actually shot in Shenzhen, China. Unlike the similar black comedy Bad Guys Always Die 坏蛋必须死 (2015), also set in South Korea, Plan feels like a Mainland production with a handful of Korean actors rather than the other way round – largely thanks to the unpretentious direction by Sen Dao 森岛.
It’s the best and most ambitious undertaking yet by Mainland mainstream journeyman Sen, a writer-director-producer who’s worked all over Greater China, starting with the Mainland/HK comedy I’ll Never Let You Off 绝不放过你 (2003, co-directed with Taiwan quickie maestro Zhu Yanping 朱延平), and starting to find his own feet with the rom-com Whoever 爱谁谁 (2012) and rural light comedy The Struggle of 80’s 80后的独立宣言 (2014). With five writers on the job (including Sen), the intricately plotted script – full of the usual coincidences, people crossing each other’s paths, and time shifts as everyone’s backgrounds and motives are gradually revealed – is nicely laid out. Unfortunately, after the first hour doing that, there’s not much else left, and after a brief finale the movie is pretty much over by the 75-minute mark, with the rest of the time filled up by explanations and general padding.
That wouldn’t be so bad, but the film is also weakened by unnecesssary mugging, led by South Korea’s Bak Mun-heui 박문희 | 朴文熙 as a gay gangster and supported by China’s He Jun 何军 as his sleazoid sidekick. Luckily, other performances are more straightforward, with Hong Kong veteran Chen Xiaochun 陈小春 [Jordan Chan], now 49, managing to give the whole yarn some grounding as a middle-aged petty crook who gets drawn into the plot by his pretty young Mainland wife, played OK by Deng Jiajia 邓家佳 (aka “little Zhou Xun”, the accused in Silent Witness 全民目击, 2013, and detective in Lost in White 冰河追凶, 2016). Taiwan actor-singer-model Wang Dongcheng 汪东城, 35, is on the weedy side as a tourist from the Mainland who also gets drawn into the chaos (his Taiwan accent is explained by making him from Fujian province), so the only serious male competition to Chen comes from South Korean light comedian Yi Beom-su 이범수 | 李凡秀 (Singles 싱글즈, 2003), who’s terrific as the louche make-up artist forced to pose as a hitman. Yi, now 47, expertly balances the comedy between mugging and more serious stuff, and it’s a pity he’s not in the character-heavy film more than he is.
The production package, with several of Sen’s regular crew (editor Qian Fang 钱芳, art director Yao Yibo 姚一博), is the smoothest to date, jazzed up with an animated introduction and enhanced by the widescreen photography of Chen Zhoufei 陈宙飞 who takes over from veteran Hong Kong d.p. Fan Quanxin 范铨鑫. Local box-office was only a lame RMB4.5 million, better than the disastrous The Struggle of 80’s (RMB400,000) but below Whoever (RMB17 million), Sen’s top earner so far. The film shouldn’t be confused with another Mainland caper film Foolish Plans 发条城市, directed by Jiang Tao 江涛, also released in 2016.
Presented by Zhejiang New Shadow Culture Communication (CN), Shenzhen Free-Win World Pictures (CN), Hangzhou Yanhua Media (CN), Beijing Jumi Hudong Movies & Media (CN).
Script: Sen Dao, Li Hong, Feng Jingqiao, Ru Yingqiao, Zhang Weiwei. Photography: Chen Zhoufei. Editing: Qian Fang. Music: Xu Ming. Art direction: Yao Yibo. Sound: Jiang Jianqiang. Action: Li Jie. Visual effects: Yan Yimeng (Beijing Hiner Suntrans Cultural Media). Animation: Song Wei (Creative Picture). Executive direction: Ge Nairong.
Cast: Chen Xiaochun [Jordan Chan] (Mei Dazhi), Deng Jiajia (An Jing), Wang Dongcheng (Hao Dongdong), Yi Beom-su (Cha Gi-beom), Zhang Xiaojue (Guoguo, Hao Dongdong’s wife), Xu Ouyi (An Ning, An Jing’s elder sister), Bak Mun-heui (Myeong-cheol), Guo Yunfei (Da Yan/Big Eyes), Lu Jinjie (Zaizai, An Ning’s student), Shan Baozhong (Han, lawyer), He Jun (Gangdan), Wu Qihua (Bai Chuxiong), Zhu Danqing (Shisan Ge/Thirteen), Choi Ji-yeon (actress), Li Hong, Zeng Chuxiong, Xu Jing’ao (Gangdan’s men), Jia Hongxiang (narrator).
Release: China, 9 Dec 2016.