Review: Goodbye Mr. Loser

Goodbye Mr. Loser

夏洛特烦恼

China, 2015, colour/b&w, 2.35:1, 98 mins.

Directors: Yan Fei 闫非, Peng Damo 彭大魔.

Rating: 7/10.

Entertaining back-to-high-school comedy is raised above a sketch level by leads Shen Teng and Ma Li.

STORY

Beijing, the present day. For the hell of it, Xia Luo (Shen Teng) turns up at the wedding of his onetime high-school dream girl, Qiu Ya (Wang Zhi), who is marrying a big, fat unattractive guy. Some of his old classmates are also there, including Yuan Hua (Yin Zheng) who also fancied Qiu Ya, the very camp transvestite Meng Te (Chang Yuan), and the toothy Zhang Yang (Song Yang), plus their teacher Wang (Tian Yu). Xia Luo gets drunk and is singing a song at Qiu Ya’s feet when his wife, Ma Dongmei (Ma Li), turns up by surprise and catches him in the act. She humiliates him in front of everyone, calling him a loser, and Xia Luo makes a run for it. After throwing up in the toilet, he suddenly finds himself transported back to 1997 and his high-school classroom, where Wang is berating him for his lack of discipline. Tomboy Ma Dongmei, who secretly likes him, walks out of class when he starts rhapsodising about Qiu Ya; Xia Luo, thinking he’s still in a dream, kisses the embarrassed Qiu Ya, and chaos breaks out, with the dictatorial Wang ending up on the floor. Thanks to the intervention of his mother (Li Ping), Xia Luo is not expelled and continues to chase after Qiu Ya, with Ma Dongmei constantly trying to divert him. Qiu Ya is “defended” by classmate Yuan Hua, who turns out to be a wimp. To catch Xia Luo’s attention, Ma Dongmei even tries dressing up in girly clothes like Qiu Ya. Then one day, Xia Luo, who’s long dreamed of being a songwriter/singer, is commissioned by the well-known Na Ying (Ma Xiaoqian) to write a song and perform it with her. Xia Luo becomes famous and ends up marrying Qiu Ya, with both living the high life. Ma Dongmei, meanwhile, has left the city to study sport and try to forget Xia Luo.

REVIEW

A slob gets a chance to revisit his teens and see where he went wrong in Goodbye Mr. Loser 夏洛特烦恼, an enormously successful film version of the 2012 play by theatre company Ma Hua FunAge 开心麻花 that combines nostalgia for the past, plus the trusty high-school rom-com genre, as well as star turns for its two leads, Shen Teng 沈腾 and Ma Li 马丽. The movie was Ma Hua FunAge’s first sally into film production, with original writer-directors Yan Fei 闫非 and Peng Damo 彭大魔 in charge and several of the original cast reprising their stage roles. Despite all that, the film’s success was still a surprise, grossing a colossal RMB1.4 billion over the 2015 October holiday for what is, in essence, a modest high-school movie that’s a series of comic sketches.

The original play by Yan and Peng opened in late 2012, with theatre and TV actor Zhang Zidong 张子栋 in the title role of Xia Luo, Ma as high-school tomboy Ma Dongmei who holds a torch for him, and Liu Wenwei 刘文纬 as the school beauty he has a crush on. Ma reprises her role in the film, as do several supporting players (Ai Lun 艾伦 as the class dunce, Chang Yuan 常远 as a camp transvestite, Song Yang 宋阳 as a toothy classmate), but the better-known TV actress Wang Zhi 王智 takes over the school beauty role and, most importantly, Shen the lead one. An actor-director with Ma Hua FunAge since its inception in 2003, Shen, 37, has largely mosied along in small parts in films – such as K in spy caper Mission Milano 王牌逗王牌 (2016), the funniest cameo in the whole thing; but in Loser he sinks his teeth into a role that makes the most of his talent for straightfaced comedy and as an all-round entertainer. (He’s equally convincing here as a successful singer-songwriter, wryly observing that he has a chance of success, now he’s back in 1997, as “Po Shu 朴树 and Xu Wei 许巍 haven’t become famous yet!”).

It’s a dream teaming with theatre/TV actress Ma, 34, also a longtime Ma Hua FunAge member, who can not only get away with playing a teenage tomboy in medium shots but also has enough spunk and energy to power the whole thing singlehandedly. It’s thanks to the chemistry between her and Shen that the succession of comic sketches vaguely transform into something closely resembling a plot in the latter stages, with a smidgeon of emotion as Shen’s Xia Luo realises the mistake he made so long ago. Among the other cast, Wang is strong as the school beauty who’s all iron beneath the flower-vase surface; Taiwan veteran Li Liqun 李立群has a lovely cameo as the school’s compromised headmaster; and character actor Tian Yu 天雨 (the cooking friend in The Piano in a Factory 钢的琴, 2010) is well cast as the lead’s teacher nemesis.

The production ladles on period music and songs by the cartload, plus a handful of time-travel jokes and a very funny skit on Hong Kong’s Liu Dehua 刘德华 [Andy Lau] by Shen. Wisely, it doesn’t overdo the joke of a grown man playing himself at high school, as that’s hardly new in Chinese cinema (Fight Back to School 逃学威龙, 1991, etc). For an initial film directing credit by both Yan and Peng, it’s a technically smooth production, brought in by skilled editors Du Yuan and Hong Kong’s Xu Hongyu 许宏宇 [Derek Hui] at a tight 90-odd minutes. Widescreen photography by Sun Ming 孙明 (Life Show 生活秀, 2002; The Seal of Love 秋之白华, 2011; Xuan Zang 大唐玄奘, 2016) is typically handsome.

The original title roughly means “Xia Luo Is Very Confused”.

CREDITS

Presented by Beijing Fun Age Pictures (CN), New Classics Pictures (CN), Shenzhen Tencent Video Culture Communication (CN), Wanda Media (CN). Produced by Beijing Fun Age Pictures (CN).

Script: Peng Damo, Yan Fei. Play: Yan Fei, Peng Damo. Photography: Sun Ming. Editing: Du Yuan, Xu Hongyu [Derek Hui]. Music: Dong Dongdong. Art direction: Wang Shuo. Styling: Yan Zi. Sound: Liu Yang. Action: Yang Haoxiang. Executive direction: Yang Huan.

Cast: Shen Teng (Xia Luo), Ma Li (Ma Dongmei), Yin Zheng (Yuan Hua, classmate), Ai Lun (Da Chun, class dunce), Wang Zhi (Qiu Ya), Tian Yu (Wang, teacher), Song Yang (Zhang Yang, toothy classmate), Chang Yuan (Meng Te, camp classmate), Li Ping (Xia Luo’s mother), Li Liqun (headmaster), Zhang Yiming (wedding MC), Ma Xiaoqian (Na Ying, singer), Liu Kun (Chen Kai, gang leader), Huang Cailun (brother-in-law), Zhang Yiming (wedding MC), Chen Haoming (Beibei), Lu Linjie (Wanwan), Wang Chengsi (Sisi), Liu Jin (groom), Yang Huan (doctor, 1997), Wang Shuo (punk), Zhou Zhanchi (Taiwan contestant).

Release: China, 30 Sep 2015.