China, 2016, colour, 2.35:1, 93 mins.
Director: Zhang Qi 张琦.
By-the-numbers college picture is boosted by bright performances from its largely young cast.
Shanghai, Apr 2015. Four fourth-year students are roommates at Hudu University’s Business School: cocksure Lin Xiangyu (Chen Xiao), 23, from Xi’an; gay Li Dapeng (Du Tianhao), from Xiamen, the spoiled son of a wealthy businessman; brilliant but virginal student Guan Chao (Liu Ruilin), from Shanghai; and streetwise Xie Xun (Li Xian), from Chongqing, who still pines for his ex-girlfriend Gao Baojing (Lan Yinying). Lin Xiangyu and Li Dapeng have a singing act that includes Li Dapeng’s pet Chilean alpaca Rodger. A close friend of the foursome, but not a roommate, is Hou Xiaotian, aka Monkey (Wang Xiaokun), who sleeps with multiple women. The group is due to graduate in the summer, after completing three-month internships with companies. Lin Xiangyu goes to work in Ping’an Insurance’s marketing department, where the manager (Kong Lin) assigns him Xu Meixin (Qin Lan) as his mentor. He immediately starts romancing her; after initially rejecting him, especially as she is six or seven years older, she gradually takes a liking to him. Meanwhile, Guan Chao, working in a publishing company, accidentally meets the shy Lu Xiaoxiao (Yu Xintian) and falls for her; they eventually make love in a hotel room. When Lin Xiangyu and Xu Meixin are stranded in the countryside after visiting a horse farm, they finally kiss and fall in love. Lu Xiaoxiao tells Guan Chao her dream is to emigrate to the US, but Guan Chao remains tied to Shanghai. Xie Xun eventually bumps into Gao Baojing and finds she’s pregnant and forced to live with a gangster (Wang Baojiang). When college bully Song Zihao, aka Yellow Hair (Jiang Xueming), beats up Monkey again, Xie Xun organises a revenge fight and is expelled from the college, prompting a falling-out between him and Li Xiangyu. Guan Chao also can’t persuade Lu Xiaoxiao to give up her dream of emigrating, and Li Xiangyu’s relationship with Xu Meixin hits a big problem.
A by-the-numbers youth picture about four college pals and their various escapades and romantic entanglements, Mates 睡在我上铺的兄弟 is hardly original in any way but is boosted by bright performances from its TV/youth-icon cast. A feature-film cousin to a 26-part web series, Who Sleeps My Bro 睡在我上铺的兄弟 超级网剧 (2016) – also produced by Le Vision Pictures and directed by Zhang Qi 张琦, and with an almost identical cast and crew – it makes up in energy what it lacks in structure, and is partly anchored by above-average playing from actress Qin Lan 秦岚, 35, as the “older woman” in one relationship. Overall, the web series (in which Qin makes only a “special appearance”) is much more entertaining and better balanced, but the movie still managed to hawl in a respectable RMB128 million, despite its lack of big film names and unoriginal content.
Xi’an-born Zhang, 43, worked in TV documentaries before moving into feature films, where he’s had a chequered history so far, starting with the interesting horror Save Me 救我 (2008) but falling off with The Devil Inside Me 夺命心跳 (2011) and rom-com Holding Love HOLD住爱 (2012), the last with actress Yang Mi 杨幂. Mates is much better honed on a technical level, though the resolution of the relationships is TV drama-ish. As shot by Hong Kong d.p. Zou Lianyou 邹连友 [Davy Tsou] (The Palace 宫 锁沉香, 2013; For a Few Bullets 快手枪手快枪手, 2016), Shanghai is presented as a city of young people’s dreams, with inspiring urban landscapes and backgrounds throughout, and in a typical Shanghai way the drama is never allowed to get too dramatic or puncture the characters’ aspirations.
Thus, in the central relationship – between a cocksure student from Xi’an (played OK by Chen Xiao 陈晓) and his older internship mentor (Qin), both sacrifice themselves for a love that transcends age but don’t threaten the social status quo. In the same way, the other main relationhip, between a smart but virginal Shanghaier (Liu Ruilin 刘芮麟, also OK) and a virginal but focused fellow student (Yu Xintian 余心恬), is resolved without either compromising their ambitions. The other two roommates get less screentime: the gay, spoiled son of a rich man (Taiwan’s Du Tianhao 杜天皓) fools around with his pet alpaca and a streetwise Chongqinger (Li Xian 李现) is left pining for his ex and ends up kicked out of college.
Performances by all four male leads are fine, plus Wang Xiaokun 王啸坤 as their lothario pal Monkey; among the women it’s only Qin – a skilled TV actress too little seen in movies (the wife in City of Life and Death 南京！南京！, 2009; the ruthless spouse in The Last Supper 王的盛宴, 2012) – who manages to put some meat on her character’s bones, as far as the script allows. She’s closely followed by the younger Yu, 26, as the student who’s determined to emigrate to the US, no matter what.
The web series (see poster, left), composed of 24-minute episodes, went online nationwide on 17 Jan 2016, 10 weeks before the film’s release. The series’ gobbledygook English title was retained for posters of the movie but was changed to Mates on the actual film. The web series’ story starts earlier, in the students’ second year not fourth, and devotes much more time to the gay Li Dapeng and the streetwise Xie Xun.
The film’s title, which literally means “My Brothers Who Sleep in the Bunk Above”, is the title of a nostalgic college song from 1994, written by Gao Xiaosong 高晓松 and popularised by the Beijing singer Lao Lang 老狼 (aka Wang Yang 王阳), which evokes youthful friendships and simpler times. Gao, 47, a songwriter and occasional director (Where Have All the Flowers Gone 那时花开, 2002; Rainbow 我心飞翔, 2005; My Kingdom 大武生, 2011) is also the film’s music director and one of its producers, and has a comic cameo as the business school’s head addressing the pupils in assembly. Director Zhang has a lightning cameo as the husband of a jealous employee.
Presented by Le Vision Pictures (CN). Produced by Le Vision Pictures (CN).
Script: Zhang Qi, Chen Qian, Zhao Ben, Su Yang. Photography: Zou Lianyou [Davy Tsou]. Editing: Zhang Jia. Music: Qian Lei, Zhang Xiaozhen. Music direction: Gao Xiaosong. Art direction: Shi Bin. Styling: Lu Wenhua. Sound: Wu Ming, He Mei. Action: Qin Pengfei. Visual effects: Pu Xinyue (Vision Unit Visual Effects).
Cast: Chen Xiao (Lin Xiangyu), Qin Lan (Xu Meixin), Du Tianhao (Li Dapeng/James), Liu Ruilin (Guan Chao), Li Xian (Xie Xun), Wang Xiaokun (Hou Xiaotian/Monkey), Yu Xintian (Lu Xiaoxiao/Lucy), Jiang Xueming (Song Zihao/Yellow Hair), Lan Yingying (Gao Baojing, Xie Xun’s ex-girlfriend), Yao Mi (Jennifer Baby), Liang Chao (Gao Chao), Wang Baojiang (Wu, gangster), Kong Lin (Wang, department manageress), Ren Zhengbin (Dong, horse breeder), Gan Wei (Mary), Gao Xiaosong (business-school head), Yu Minhong (TOEFL teacher), Jin Yuqian (Susan, insurance-company employee), Zhang Qi (Susan’s husband), Liu Ye (Han Shu, student-union chairwoman), Zhu Anbin (Mazi/Pockmark).
Release: China, 1 Apr 2016.