Taiwan/China/South Korea/Hong Kong, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 102 mins.
Director: He Weiting 何蔚庭 [Ho Wi Ding].
Remake of a South Korean body-swap comedy is a confident step up by Malaysian director He Weiting [Ho Wi Ding] and Taiwan actress Gui Lunmei.
A city in China, the present day. Ruthless and successful thirtysomething lawyer Li Yuran (Gui Lunmei) settles a charge of attempted rape brought by a poor family (Pan Yijun, Lin Jianxuan) against a privileged one (Yan Jiale, Zheng Kaiyuan) by coolly destroying the former’s claim. Happily unattached, and with no family left – her mother Zhu Qiuhua died in May 2011 – Li Yuran plans to take a sabbatical in Germany to further her studies, despite the disapproval of her boss, college friend Zhao (Xie Yingxuan). On her way home one evening, Li Yuran crashes her car into a lorry and wakes up to find herself at the Terminal of Fate 命运中转站, where she’s informed by the head, Li (Wang Jingchun), that she’s dead. In fact, it’s a clerical error by one of his staff (Chen Qingsheng), who confused her name with that of a woman born in 1939, 40 years before Li Yuran. Li tells her they need a week to recalibrate her settings and restore her to life; meanwhile, she has to fill the human void by adopting the identity of a woman who is scheduled to die in seven days’ time. Li Yuran wakes up to find she is a middle-class housewife with a husband, Zhang Tao (Chen Kun), and two children – moody teenage daughter Zhang Xingze (Ouyang Na’na) and young son Zhang Tianze (Wang Yuanye). Forced into acting the part – and occasionally visited by Li to make sure she is abiding by their agreement – she seems strange to her family. But she forms a special bond with the son, who says he realises she’s actually an alien – taking his real mother’s place while she’s temporarily away – and he promises not to give away her secret. After standing up for the meek Zhang Tao at a company dinner, Li Yuran also starts to form a liking for him, and later she uses her legal skills against Zhang Xingze’s boyfriend (Yi Guang) after he attempts to rape her. But just when she’s developing a liking for her new role, and she’s needed in a family crisis, Li tells her it’s time to go back to her real life.
The careers of actress Gui Lunmei 桂纶镁 and director He Weiting 何蔚庭 [Ho Wi Ding] both take a big step up with Beautiful Accident 美好的意外, an entertaining body-swap comedy in which a hard-hearted yuppie lawyer spends a week as a housewife-with-two-kids while Heaven sorts out the clerical error that led to her premature death. After two dozen or so movies, Gui, 33, finally gets a film in which she’s the true star and, as well as carrying it pretty much on her own, also shows a performance range and a gift for physical comedy that have only been hinted at in her previous films. She’s well served by a tight script, direction by He that’s smooth and supportive, and a characterful cast that melds easily. Alas, despite its qualities, Accident failed to make a bang on Mainland release, grossing only a quiet RMB17 million.
After several years making ironic, well-observed but very small character studies (Pinoy Sunday 台北星期天, 2009; My Elder Brother in Taiwan 酒是故乡浓, 2012; The Biggest Toad in the Puddle 水煮金蟾, 2014), the Malaysian-born, Taiwan-based He finally made an out-and-out commercial movie with the family comedy Our Sister Mambo (2015), set in Singapore and shot in Singlish. But where Mambo had a very local flavour, in its humour and personalities, Accident is a broadly accessible mainstream movie. Even after the experience of Mambo, it’s an impressive step up by He after his earlier, small-scale stuff.
Though the basic plot of Accident strongly recalls the 1938 play by US writer Harry Segall that already inspired the Hollywood films Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), Heaven Can Wait (1978) and Down to Earth (2001), it’s officially a remake of the South Korean comedy Wonderful Nightmare 미쓰 와이프 (2015, literally “Miss Wife”), directed by commercial journeyman Gang Hyo-jin 강효진 | 姜孝镇, co-written by Gim Je-yeong 김제영 | 金帝荣 (who in Accident gets an “original story” credit) and starring local diva Eom Jeong-hwa 엄정화 | 严正化. (This explains the presence of South Korea’s Showbox in the presenting credits, as well as the absence of any Korean actors in the cast, as one would expect in a normal co-production.) Ultimately, however, Accident is just another entry in the mini-genre of mind/body-swap movies, which in Chinese cinema alone has recently spawned the hit Miss Granny 重返20岁 (2015) as well as variations like Suddenly Seventeen 28岁未成年 (2016) and plastic-surgery comedy The Truth about Beauty 整容日记 (2014).
As scripted by Ha Zhichao 哈智超 (Mr. & Mrs. Single 隐婚男女, 2011; New York New York 纽约纽约, 2016) and Zhou Jialin 周佳琳, Accident sticks pretty closely to the Korean film, especially in the early scenes of the lead character callously demolishing a mother and daughter as they try to bring a rape charge against a privileged teenager; her reception at the Pearly Gates where the mistake is explained; and her being parachuted into an average middle-class family with a time-serving husband, stroppy teenage daughter and sympathetic young son. Thereafter, Ha and Zhou’s screenplay continues to follow the original closely and even improves on it, getting rid of some family and neighbourhood business, cleverly tweaking the final scene, and coming in 20 minutes shorter with less diversions from the main character.
Still only in her early 30s, Gui is a stretch as a mother with a teen daughter, despite a frumpy hairstyle and baggy clothes; in the Korean original, Eom, in her mid-40s, was more believable in that repect. But where Eom largely played the role at full throttle, Gui shows much more subtle technique: her gradual transformation in the opening half-hour from an icily organised careerist lawyer to a struggling middle-class housewife is beautifully calibrated, especially in a crucial interim scene with actor Wang Jingchun 王景春 (as the smiley guardian of the Pearly Gates) where her legalistic default mode proves little help.
The early scenes as the housewife show Gui at her best, with a gift for slightly goofy physical comedy that’s she’s only fitfully shown earlier in her career (such as her punky character in All about Women 女人不坏, 2008). In what’s billed as a “special appearance” but is really a full supporting role (and was boosted to such on China posters), Mainland heartthrob Chen Kun 陈坤 nicely underplays the boring husband, slowly coming out of his character’s shell in a series of powerful scenes around the hour mark that shift the movie towards a romantic comedy. This section is the heart and soul of the whole film, and shows He, plus his writers, d.p. and editor, in full technical command, moving from a company dinner sequence in which Gui’s character rises to a challenge, through a romantic supper in the backstreets, and more romance back home before another change of mood leads to a clever riff on the film’s opening sequence. It’s largely thanks to the actors that the more generic elements – such as a sudden hospital crisis – don’t pull the rug out from under the film, which also sidesteps the obvious path of lauding family life over careerism.
Like Claude Rains in Mr. Jordan, and Gim Sang-ho 김상호 | 金相浩 in the Korean version, Mainland character veteran Wang (To Live and Die in Ordos 警察日记, 2013; The Witness 我是证人, 2015; Time Raiders 盗墓笔记, 2016) relishes the role of Heaven’s gatekeeper, popping up in an increasingly bizarre series of disguises and subtly suggesting a late-on twist in his character. Of the two children, Taiwan cellist-turned-actress Ouyang Na’na 欧阳娜娜 (the high-schooler in Beijing Love Story 北京爱情故事, 2014) is shortchanged on her role as the teenage daughter, though she does get the film’s funniest gag (not in the Korean original) with a teddy bear; much more developed, and finally very touching, is the relationship between the lead character and her young “son”, also based on an idea that’s not in the Korean film. The kid is simply but affectingly played by Wang Yuanye 王元也, 11, who just happens to be the son of one of the film’s producers, Huayi Brothers’ Wang Zhonglei 王中磊.
He’s regular editor, Taiwan’s Xu Weiyao 许惟尧, brings in a tightly packaged product at 100 minutes, and Hong Kong/Bangkok-based Australian d.p. Wade Muller (Tales from the Dark 李碧华鬼魅系列, 2013; Horseplay 盗马记, 2014) a good-looking product set in Anytown, Mainland China, enhanced by grounded direction from Chen Boren 陈柏任, whose old-fashioned Terminal of Fate is much more down-to-earth than the Korean film’s all-white high-tech version.
Presented by Huayi Brothers Media Group (CN), Showbox (SK), Huayi Brothers International (HK). Produced by Changhe Films (TW), Huayi Brothers Pictures (CN).
Script: Ha Zhichao, Zhou Jialin. Original story: Gim Je-yeong. Play: Harry Segall. Photography: Wade Muller. Editing: Xu Weiyao. Music: ROB. Art direction: Chen Boren. Styling: Wei Xiangrong. Sound: Du Duzhi, Wu Shuyao.
Cast: Gui Lunmei (Li Yuran), Wang Jingchun (Li, Terminal of Fate head), Ouyang Na’na (Zhang Xingze, daughter), Wang Yuanye (Zhang Tianze, son), Chen Kun (Zhang Tao, husband; Zhang Zijun, old boyfriend), Pan Yijun (Xiaoqian’s mother; female lawyer), Lin Jianxuan (Xiaoqian), Yan Jiale (Ji Qingchuan’s mother), Zheng Kaiyuan (Ji Qingchuan), Fan Guangyao (Cui, public prosecutor), Xie Yingxuan (Zhao), Chen Yanzhuang (lorry driver), Zhang Yafeng (Terminal of Fate receptionist), Zeng Peiyu (Terminal of Fate information lady), Chen Qingsheng (Sun, Terminal of Fate manager), Xie Junhui (Min’er’s mother), Du Zhichen (Cheng Yu’s mother), Yang Jing’er (Haohao’s mother), Wu Bilian (old lady in toilet), Zhu Dingyi (supermarket cashier), Yi Guang (Ding Weiyi, Zhang Xingze’s boyfriend), Gong Shaoqing (Lai, Zhang Tao’s department manager), Luo Bei’an (company president), Ge Lei (Ding Weiyi’s mother), Xu Xuanle (Lele).
Release: Taiwan, tba; China, 2 Jun 2017; South Korea, tba; Hong Kong, tba.