A Big Deal
China, 2011, colour, 1.85:1, 90 mins.
Director: Ma Liwen 马俪文.
Unoriginal get-rich-quick New Year Comedy hobbled by a clumsily written script.
Beijing, the present day. Due to the economic crisis in the West, high-flying, 20-something Zhang Ze (Lan Zhenglong) is suddenly laid off from his trading job one day. However, along with college pal Liu Yijun (Qiao Renliang), who’s been jobless for a year, he’s offered an opportunity by their friend Wang Yunpeng (Du Wenze) to go to Dubai and join him in selling some real estate there. Zhang Ze’s girlfriend Chen Yu (Tong Yao) refuses to join him because of her own career, but Zhang Zhe accepts Wang Yunpeng’s offer all the same. But when the trio arrive in Dubai, they find that Wang Yunpeng’s contact, Wei (Liu Bin), is recovering from a quadruple-bypass heart operation and cannot work with them for the time being. Wang Yunpeng decides to take control of events and, with Wei’s help, the three meet the real-estate developer himself, Huang (Ye Daying), who’s run out of money after building only half the homes and is desperate to sell them. They propose building a hotel-leisure complex on the remaining land to increase the saleability of the existing homes, and for them to manage it. Huang agrees on a partnership and the three set out to find investors for the US$2 billion project. Meanwhile, in Beijing Zhang Ze gets to know Zhou Yun (Han Chae-yeong), who recently returned from South Korea after being laid off from a company she originally started with a friend, Yang Yi (Xu Zhi’an). But as Huang’s deadline for finding the US$2 billion investment approaches, the three aren’t having much luck.
The curious career of writer-director Ma Liwen 马俪文, 40 – best known internationally for her second feature, the beautifully-crafted chamber drama You and Me 我们俩 (2005) – gets even curiouser with A Big Deal 巨额交易, an out-and-out attempt at a Chinese New Year Comedy on the usual subject of Getting Rich. Combining elements from her two previous films, the anarchic, money-mad comedy Lost and Found 我叫刘跃进 (2008) and portmanteau rom-com Desires of the Heart 桃花运 (2008), but glossily packaged with no pretence at realism, the movie starts out as another satire of get-rich-quick New China but soon falls on its face due to a clumsily structured script, unfunny dialogue and uninspired casting.
Deal has the unmistakeable feel of a film made by someone with no natural aptitude for the chosen genre and a slapdash attitude towards it. Ma undoubtedly has talent: her Lost and Found got by on its gritty, Beijing-style humour and complementary photography by d.p. Wu Di 邬迪, while the multi-character Desires had a simple, episodic charm. But Deal, with its story of three ambitious chancers hoping to get rich in Dubai, needed a properly developed script, leads with screen chemistry and some smart plotting to fulfil its commercial remit. None of those are on show here.
As the lead trio, Taiwan model-actor Lan Zhenglong (Night Market Hero 鸡排英雄, 2011), Mainland singer-actor Qiao Renliang 乔任梁 (the shelf-stacker in One Night in Supermarket 夜•店, 2009) and Hong Kong veteran Du Wenze 杜汶泽 [Chapman To] have no perceptible buddy chemistry, and their teamwork is not helped by the over-cooked Mandarin re-voicing of Du. The supporting cast of wives and girlfriends makes little individual impression. The biggest pleasures come from veterans like director Ye Daying 叶大鹰 (Tian An Men 天安门, 2009) as a property developer and He Tiehong 何铁红 (the blacksmith in Wind Blast 西风烈, 2010) as a bluff Chinese American coal magnate.
It’s the role played by South Korean TV actress Han Chae-yeong 한채영 | 韩彩英 that sums up the weaknesses of Ma’s script. Clumsily shoehorned into the main story, and introducing a romantic element that doesn’t convince for a second, her character is simply a plot convenience to kick-start the second half of the story. This kind of arbitrariness is visible right through the movie which, though well-appointed with jolly music by An Wei 安巍, good-looking Dubai photography by Huang Lian 黄炼 (Eternal Moment 将爱情进行到底, 2011) and some okay animated montages, never takes flight as it thinks it does itself.
Presented by Lucky Star Beijing Media (CN), Dadu Movie (CN), LeTV Pictures (CN), New Film Association (CN). Produced by Lucky Star Beijing Media (CN).
Script: Ma Liwen. Original story: Li Songtao, Yu Yifan, An Tao. Photography: Huang Lian. Editing: Zhang Jia. Music: An Wei. Art direction: Li Yading. Costume design: Li Yunqing. Sound: Li Shuo, An Wei. Visual effects: A Dong Lin.
Cast: Lan Zhenglong (Zhang Ze), Du Wenze [Chapman To] (Wang Yunpeng), Qiao Renliang (Liu Yijun), Han Chae-yeong (Zhou Yun), Xu Zhi’an (Yang Yi), Tong Yao (Chen Yu, Zhang Ze’s girlfriend), Huang Ling (Xiao’ai, Wang Yunpeng’s wife), Miao Miao (rich man’s wife), Ye Daying (Huang), Ying Zhuang (Sun Fan), Xia Fan (Chen Yu’s boss), Liu Bin (Wei), He Tiehong (Qian Duoduo), Hu Shufen (Li, street beggar), Hou Xue, Cong Zhuyi (Zhou Yun’s friends), Lin Jing (Yang Yi’s wife), Sheng Yufen (Wei’s wife), Yang Yong (wedding-car driver), Guo Hui (obstetrician), Ali Mohammed Kayed (Dubai official), Su Mao (Zhang, Yang Yi’s deputy).
Release: China, 2 Dec 2011.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 22 Dec 2011.)