Meet the In-Laws
China, 2012, colour, 2.35:1, 90 mins.
Director: Li Haishu 李海蜀.
Shanghai comic Xu Zheng partners OK with Hong Kong veteran Xu Shaoxiong in this pleasant relationships comedy.
Shanghai, the present day, September. Fan Jianqiang (Xu Zheng) is a national second-level psychologist; among his patients is one he has nicknamed Man Into Holes (Ren Long), a born victim with a fear of falling down holes. After meeting his girlfriend Su Xi (Lin Peng), an air hostess who’s just taken off three months to spend in the mountains, the pair borrow a car from Fan Jianqiang’s best friend, film props man Wu Fendan (Guo Mingxiang), and drive to Hangzhou to spend the Mid-Autumn Festival with her well-off parents, economics professor Su Bohu (Xu Shaoxiong) and his wife Xiaoli (Li Fengxu). Left alone in the large house while Su Xi goes off to collect her mother from the hairdresser’s, Fan Jianqiang meets Su Bohu: to the former’s surprise and the latter’s shock, they turn out to already know each other, as Su Bohu is one of Fan Jianqiang’s anonymous patients. Because Fan Jianqiang knows all his intimate secrets (including an impotence problem with his wife), Su Bohu orders him to drive back to Shanghai and never see his daughter again. When Fan Jianqiang refuses, Su Bohu stuffs him in the boot of the car and drives himself. After an embarrassing incident with the police, who stop the car en route, the two return to Su Bohu’s home and feign friendship in front of Su Xi and her mother. Even when Fan Jianqiang confesses he earns only RMB4,000 a month, has no house of his own and just a tiny, one-man business, Xiaoli still takes to him. Relations between the two men aren’t helped when Fan Jianqiang loses Su Bohu’s pet turtle, and that night the sleeping arrangements in the house become problematical. Next day, things become even more complicated when Su Bohu steals off to meet Mo Lan (Liu Jie), a onetime girlfriend who’s just got divorced, and Fan Jianqiang unwittingly becomes involved.
In an unlikely pairing, Shanghai-born comedian Xu Zheng 徐峥 and veteran Hong Kong character actor Xu Shaoxiong 许绍雄 share top billing in Meet the In-Laws 搞定岳父大人, a sometimes inspired but mostly pleasant relationships comedy that also marks the directing debut of Yunnan-born scriptwriter Li Haishu 李海蜀. Though it’s notable for being Xu Shaoxiong’s first lead role in a Mainland production, In-Laws is now better known for being his co-star Xu Zheng’s last release before Lost in Thailand 人再囧途之泰囧 (2012), distributed only four months later. Though already known as a comic actor from TV (Sunny Piggy 春光灿烂猪八戒, 2000; Li Wei, the Magistrate 李卫当官, 2001) and film (Crazy Stone 疯狂的石头, 2006; Unfinished Girl 第三个人, 2007; One Night in Supermarket 夜•店, 2009; Lost on Journey 人在囧途, 2010), and taking a producer credit on In-Laws, Xu only went stratospheric as an all-round film-maker with Thailand. Despite its qualities, the well-manicured In-Laws grossed only a tiny RMB18 million, compared with the blousier Thailand‘s RMB1.27 billion.
Though Xu Zheng’s chemistry with Xu Shaoxiong isn’t on the same level as that with Mainlanders like Huang Bo 黄渤 or Wang Baoqiang 王宝强 in Thailand – and is necessarily watered down by the Hong Kong actor being revoiced (though well) into Mandarin – it’s OK and gets the job done, in what is basically a comedy centred on a meek guy and his ogrish father-in-law, with knobs on. Starting out as a meet-my-parents comedy, morphing into an infidelity farce and ending as a mini-crime caper, Meet the In-Laws is never dull: sprightly/grumpy but with a warm core, Xu Shaoxiong delivers as expected, and the whole thing is underpinned by Xu Zheng’s usual blend of naivety and craftiness, whether almost wrecking a house he’s only just entered, pretending an eel isn’t biting his finger behind his back, or tiptoeing naked through his in-laws’ mansion. Then not exclusively in bald roles, he has a semi-normal head of hair in this one and is none the worse for it. In fact, it’s much less distracting.
Director Li, who co-wrote with her working partner Huang Yanwei 黄彦威, delivers a smooth package, cleanly lit by d.p. Li Yonghong 李勇宏, with the camera always in the right place and no discernible stylistic quirks. Apart from a couple of dips in the middle, where it loses focus, the film rolls smoothly along for 90 minutes, with a strong opening and closing and all characters (including two crooks, a best friend, and a nutty patient) nicely worked into the plot by the end. As the girlfriend/daughter, Lin Peng 林鹏, then known only for supporting parts – her lead role in The Break-Up Artist 分手大人 (shot in 2010, released in 2014) still being on the shelf – partners fine with Xu, while veteran Li Fengxu 李凤绪 (Sacrificed Youth 青春祭, 1985) brings a classy worldliness to the role of her mother.
Presented by Zhejiang Hengdian Film Production (CN). Produced by Zhejiang Hengdian Film Production (CN).
Script: Li Haishu, Huang Yanwei. Photography: Li Yonghong. Editing: Zhang Yifan. Music: Double-Y. Art direction: Li Zaiqun. Costume design: Zhang Yunjie. Sound: Sun Xiaogang, Huang Zheng. Action: Liu Mingzhe. Executive direction: Zhang Lidong.
Cast: Xu Zheng (Fan Jianqiang), Xu Shaoxiong (Su Bohu), Lin Peng (Su Xi/Susie), Li Fengxu (Xiaoli, Su Bohu’s wife), Guo Mingxiang (Wu Fendan, Fan Jianqiang’s best friend), Zhu Lin (Doudou, Wu Fendan’s girlfriend), Feng Li (Da Li, younger crook), Han Zhi (older policeman), Ren Long (Diaokengnan/Man Into Holes, Fan Jianqiang’s patient), Zhou Shaodong (Han/Old Bird, rival professor), Liu Jie (Mo Lan), Li Xiaobo (Zhang Mazi, older crook), Su Maoyang (Xiaofang, younger policeman), Wang Yuyan (young Su Xi), Chu Liusheng (Qiu).
Release: China, 3 Aug 2012.