Just Call Me Nobody
Taiwan/China, 2010, colour, 2.35:1, 94 mins.
Director: Zhu Yanping 朱延平.
Poorly scripted action antics, with a weak lead in currently hot Mainland comic Xiao Shen Yang.
Ancient China. Poor young cobbler Wu Di (Xiao Shen Yang) lives with his mother (Chen Huijuan) and is crazy about martial-arts picture books. One day he repairs the shoe of wandering swordswoman Yuelou (Lin Xilei) and later helps save her in a fight with wanted criminal Tian Baguang (Zhang Liwei), even though he has no martial-arts training. She tells him she owes him a life and can be found on Qin mountain if he ever needs her. Yuelou is actually a princess who was due to marry the emperor (Chen Zhipeng) but ran away after setting fire to her palace quarters. In love, Wu Di sets out to find her, fighting river pirate Dugu (Zhao Benshan) and his sidekick (Cheng Ye) on the way, and also meeting a hermit Buddhist monk (Wu Zongxian) who offers to take him on as a pupil. Yuelou plans to attend a martial-arts tournament to establish her name, little knowing that the emperor’s chief eunuch Cheng (Xu Shaoqiang) has arranged for her to be secretly protected by Penal Bureau officer Yang Guo (Zeng Zhiwei) and to win the tournament, so the emperor can award her the prize and persuade her to reconsider marriage. The general Li (Liang Jiaren), who is actually Wu Di’s long-lost father, is assigned to find her. Meanwhile, Wu Di meets Yuelou at an inn run by Rouge Red Phoenix (Tian Niu), who specialises in secret recipes for poisons.
Though it shoots for pan-Asian appeal, with a cast of Mainlanders (Zhao Benshan 赵本山, Chen Zhipeng 陈志朋), Taiwanese (Lin Xilei 林熙蕾, Wu Zongxian 吴宗宪, veteran Tian Niu 恬妞), Hong Kongers (Zeng Zhiwei 曾志伟 [Eric Tsang], Xu Shaoqiang 徐少强), and even a solitary Singaporean (Li Guohuang 李国煌 [Mark Lee]), Just Call Me Nobody 大笑江湖 is basically a vehicle for currently hot Mainland stand-up comic Xiao Shen Yang 小沈阳 – and that’s the problem. His special brand of wimpiness got him through A Simple Noodle Story 三枪拍案惊奇 (2009), as the film was driven by a strong surrounding cast and a smart script and direction. In Nobody, however, Xiao Shen Yang’s screen limitations are horribly exposed, both by the slapdash writing of Ning Caishen 宁财神 (Kung Fu Hip Hop 精舞门, 2008; Color Me Love 爱出色, 2010) and by the usual lack of any directorial focus by Taiwan veteran Zhu Yanping 朱延平 (Kung Fu Dunk 功夫灌篮, 2008). As a weedy martial-arts fan who falls for a runaway princess-cum-swordswoman, Xiao Shen Yang lacks the screen presence to hold together such a raggedy action comedy, which quickly devolves into a series of strained comic episodes which aren’t inherently funny.
Veteran comedian Zhao, who was Xiao Shen Yang’s teacher and also co-produced, looks out-of-place in this kind of goofy picture, and makes little impression. At the other end of the performance scale, both Zeng and Taiwan chat-show host Wu go all-out as if they’re in an offshore New Year comedy, while 1970s veteran Tian Niu has slightly more success in an extended guest appearance as a crazed poisoner. Li, one of Singapore’s funniest actors (especially in the local comedies of Liang Zhiqiang 梁智强 [Jack Neo]), is thrown away in an action cameo that lasts about two minutes. Stuck somewhere in the middle between Xiao Shen Yang’s simpering and the other actors’ bluffness, Lin has an engaging natural charm but not much of a role. The prolific Zhu’s previous movie, The Treasure Hunter 刺陵 (2009), was not even primarily a comedy, but it had more laughs – and even more inventive action – than Nobody.
Presented by Beijing Bona Film & TV Cultural Communications (CN), Benshan Media (Beijing) (CN), Yen Ping Films Production (TW), Media China (CN), Bona Entertainment (CN). Produced by Yen Ping Films Production (TW).
Script: Ning Caishen. Photography: Du Jie. Editing: Chen Bowen. Music: He Guojie. Art direction: Liu Minxiong. Styling: Chen Gufang. Sound: Du Duzhi. Action: Cheng Xiaodong [Tony Ching]. Martial arts: Huang Mingjian. Visual effects: Zhong Zhixing (Part 3 Digital Art Design [Shanghai]). Executive director: Xu Zhengchao.
Cast: Xiao Shen Yang (Wu Di), Lin Xilei (Yuelou), Chen Zhipeng (emperor), Zhao Benshan (Dugu, river pirate), Wu Zongxian (Buddhist monk), Zheng Zhiwei [Eric Tsang] (Yang Guo), Li Guohuang [Mark Lee] (Fu Dongfang), Xiaoxiaobin (young Wu Di), Tian Niu (Fenhong Fenghuang/Rouge Red Phoenix), Cheng Ye (Ma Chouzi, Dugu’s sidekick), Bi Chang (Fen Fenghuang/Rouge Phoenix), Zhai Xingyue (Hong Fenghuang/Red Phoenix), Liang Jiaren (Wu Xiaowei, Wu Di’s father/Li, general), Xu Shaoqiang (Cheng, eunuch), Hou Tongjiang (Huang Chang), Chen Huijuan (Wu Di’s mother), Zhang Liwei (Tian Baguang), Gao Zifeng (Wang Zhongyang), Xue’er (concubine), Weng Xiaoxiao (Yu Jiao Long), Shi Mingxi (Luo Xiaohu), Zhang Shaohuai (Koryo man), Wang Biqi (Koryo woman), Wang Xiaohu (Ximen), Zhang Xiaoguang (Xiaoye), Huang Yifei (swordshop owner), Hao Han (Xiaopang), Liu Xing (Xiaolin), Zhang Guoying (ugly woman), Guo Ming’er (shop assistant), Zhou Hong (Yuelou’s mother), Chi Pingji (Yuelou’s father).
Release: China, 3 Dec 2010; Taiwan, 26 Jan 2011.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 4 Jan 2011.)