Buddies in India
China, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 99 mins.
Director: Wang Baoqiang 王宝强.
Directing debut by China’s goofy Wang Baoqiang is a pleasantly amusing, odd-couple road movie, no more.
Beijing, the present day. Monkey trainer Wu Kong (Wang Baoqiang) still refuses to sell his house to make way for a large urban development, despite massive pressure from Baotang Group and the executive in charge of the project, Tang Chasu (Huang Bo). Superhero gaming geek Tang Sen (Bai Ke), son of chairman Tang Zong (Chen Peisi), even tries to do battle with Wu Kong but is defeated. With Baotang Group’s share price taking a beating, Tang Zong has a heart attack and instructs Tang Sen to go to Nandu Gaun, India, to retrieve his will, taking Wu Kong with him. He explains that all will become clear when he reaches Nandu Gaun. Wu Kong grudgingly agrees to go with him, as long as his house and monkeys remain safe in his absence. One Baotang executive (Chen Peisi) asks Wu Kong to protect Tang Sen, as there are people who don’t want him to reach Nandu Gaun. In India the two are met by Zhu Tianpeng (Yue Yunpeng), an underling from the group’s India office, who, as there are no immediate flights on to Nandu Gaun, takes them to a traditional wedding. Two Chinese assassins (Lin Yongjian, Ma Yuke) try to kill Tang Sen but Wu Kong rescues him. The pair then visit a sari factory, where Tang Sen is surprised to meet Wu Jing (Liu Yan), whom he once pledged to marry when drunk. She now wants Tang Sen to honour his promise, and gets the help of Wu Kong, who just wants Tang Sen to give him the money for his return airfare. After escaping more assassination attempts, the pair enter the “Bull King” Chilli-Eating Competition to win some money to get home. Wu Kong wins but a fight breaks out and they’re forced to run for it. Meanwhile, unknown to Wu Kong, Tang Sen has okayed by phone the order to demolish Wu Kong’s home.
The directorial debut of goofy Mainland comic Wang Baoqiang 王宝强 is, well, goofy. Apart from reminding us that he can also do action well – having trained seriously in martial arts when young – Buddies in India 大闹天竺 has few ambitions beyond being an odd-couple road movie, set in India rather than China but with a linear plot that’s as straight as a Roman road. Wang has done much of his best work as part of a team (Lost on Journey 人在囧途, 2010; Lost in Thailand 人再囧途之泰囧, 2012; Detective Chinatown 唐人街探案, 2015) and here he has okay chemistry with Bai Ke 白客 (the wannabe hero in Surprise 万万没想到, 2015), plus solid support from Yue Yunpeng 岳云鹏 and Liu Yan 柳岩 (echoing their pairing as a tubby and scheming beauty in I Belonged to You 从你的全世界路过, 2016). It’s all pleasantly amusing, cartoony stuff, with lots of fooling around in Indian costumes and scenic locations, plus the occasional fart joke, but not much that’s really memorable or taps into Wang’s gift for pathos.
Lending a CNY feel to things is the Journey to the West 西游记 theme that runs through the whole film: Wang plays a monkey trainer called Wu Kong who not only dreams he’s Sun Wukong, aka Monkey, but also ends up in India with three co-travellers who lightly parallel Monkey’s companions in the original classic. The slowly developing parallel isn’t overplayed but is a nice wrinkle. Wang is in his element here, bouncing around his home in China with his simian family and having mood-swings and escapades in India that live up to his name. (The movie’s Chinese title, which means “Uproar in India”, even puns on one of the most famous Journey to the West adaptations, Uproar in Heaven 大闹天空, 1961-64.) The action, staged by China’s Guo Yong 郭勇 (who’s worked on Rise of the Legend 黄飞鸿 英雄有梦, 2014, and Call of Heroes 危城, 2016) is mostly comic/acrobatic but makes good use of both ancient locations and set dressings, as in the sari factory with its colourful hanging fabrics.
Apart from a few scenes where the leads stop spatting and start to bond, there’s no real depth to their relationship on a par with some other buddy road movies. Acting is largely light buffoonery, not quite as manic as in, say, Lost in Thailand but sometimes close. The screenplay by Shu Huan 束焕 and Ding Ding 丁丁 (who last collaborated on Lost in Thailand) basically moves the characters from one comic/action setpiece to another as they escape being killed on their way to a temple complex that provides the finale.
Wang’s pal and acting soulmate Huang Bo 黄渤 cameos as a flashy villain, Lin Yongjian 林永健 and Ma Yuke 马浴柯 play pantomime assassins, and the most famous Sun Wukong interpreter, Liu Xiao Ling Tong 六小龄童 (stage name of Zhang Jinlai 章金莱), cameos in the final few minutes. Widescreen photography by Hong Kong’s Chen Zhiying 陈志英 (Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame 狄仁杰之通天帝国, 2010; Firestorm 风暴, 2013) makes the most of northern India’s light and temples – most of the film was shot in Rajasthan – plus the local costuming by Subarna Ray Chaudhuri that throws everything into the pot. There’s even time for a couple of brief Bollywood musical numbers, choreographed by the famed Chinni Prakash.
The film is one of three productions made under a Sep 2014 agreement between China and India, the others being Buddhist biopic Xuan Zang 大唐玄奘 (2016) and the splashy Cheng Long 成龙 [Jackie Chan] vehicle KungFu Yoga 功夫瑜伽 (2017).
Presented by Lekaihua Entertainment (Wuxi) (CN), Huoerguosi Youth Enlight Pictures (CN), Zhejiang Zhuji Shengwei Media (CN), Beijing Hairun Pictures (CN).
Script: Shu Huan, Ding Ding. Photography: Chen Zhiying. Editing: Tu Yiran. Music supervision: Jin Peida [Peter Kam]. Production design: Zhao Chongbang. Costume design: Subarna Ray Chaudhuri, Li Zhou. Sound: Li Anlei. Action: Guo Yong. Visual effects: Xu Guozhou. Choreography: Chinni Prakash.
Cast: Wang Baoqiang (Wu Kong), Bai Ke [Luo Hongming] (Tang Sen), Yue Yunpeng (Zhu Tianpeng), Liu Yan (Wu Jing), Lin Yongjian (Golden Horn), Ma Yuke (Silver Horn), Yuan Bao (The Master), Huang Bo (Tang Chasu, Tang Sen’s uncle), Chen Peisi (Tang Zong, Tang Sen’s father), Zhu Shimao (Li Changgeng), Wang Zulan (Nezha), Liu Haoran (Erlangshen), Liu Xiao Ling Tong [Zhang Jinlai] (Wu Sheng, Wu Kong’s father; Sun Wukong), Vikramjeet Virk (Bull King), Milena Krawetz (chilli-eating competitor).
Release: China, 28 Jan 2017.