Father and Son
China, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 104 mins.
Director: Yuan Weidong 袁卫东.
Vehicle for Mainland comic Da Peng is OK but fails to establish any comic rhythm or central focus.
Beijing, Dongsi district, the present day. Wannabe inventor/entrepreneur Fan Xiaobing (Da Peng) owes money all over the place. His father, school-bus driver Fan Yingxiong (Fan Wei), nags him about repaying his family, and heavies from the northern branch of Macau Iron Rooster Finance & Loans are pressuring him to repay RMB500,000. Fan Xiaobing promises Liu Wen (Zhang Tian’ai), a close friend who owns a small backstreets restaurant, that he’ll invest in her business when he makes it big. Finally, Big Brother OK (Ren Dahua), the gourmet boss of Macau Iron Rooster, arrives with his enforcer Dog (Liang Long) and gives the incompetent heavies, led by Fang Jian (Qiao Shan), 10 days to get the money, or else. Fang Jian finally corners Fan Xiaobing but the latter has no serious money to repay the debt. Big Brother OK gives him a week, or he’ll kill his father. Fan Xiaobing and Fang Jian have an idea, and encourage Fan Yingxiong to pay a visit to the home in Dali, Yunnan province, that the family left 20 years ago to come to Beijing. The real reason is so they can stage a fake funeral for Fan Yingxiong and collect the donations. Fan Yingxiong goes to Dali with his sweetheart neighbour Wu Xianxian (Wu Junmei) but ends up in hospital after a car pile-up. Fan Xiaobing flies down and uses all the money he’s collected from the fake funeral on settling his father’s bills. Back in Beijing, Fan Xiaobing and Fang Jian are given three days, or else, by Big Brother OK, who desperately needs the money as his Macau account has been frozen and he’s penniless. Fang Jian then discovers that Fan Yingxiong used to be in the army when living in Yunnan. He engineers a scheme involving Fan Yingxiong’s old army comrades – but then Fan Yingxiong suddenly turns up from Yunnan.
The contents don’t exactly chime with the label in Father and Son 父子雄兵. The English title, and even the Chinese one (“Father and Son, Brave Soldiers”), presupposes a double act between goofy comedian Da Peng 大鹏 (aka Dong Chengpeng 董成鹏) and sly veteran comic Fan Wei 范伟; however, the disorienting result is a fitfully amusing vehicle for the former in which the most resonant teaming is between him and (fifth-billed) comic Qiao Shan 乔杉, with the latter actually funnier. The film makes a valiant effort in the closing minutes to re-orient the story around father and son – even closing with a photo-montage of the actors and their dads, plus a dedication to “you who have always been there for me” – but hardly explores the relationship at all, apart from reconciling the two at the end.
Though Da Peng has recently made some funny cameos in others’ movies – the cartoony villain in Impossible 不可思异 (2015), the oily real-estate tycoon in The New Year’s Eve of Old Lee 过年好 (2016), the local judge in I Am Not Madame Bovary 我不是潘金莲 (2016) – Father is his first proper vehicle since his superhero spoof Jianbing Man 煎饼侠 (2015), which he wrote, directed and starred in. In Father he’s just the star and creative producer 监制 but the screenplay – by Su Liang 苏亮 (Lost in Hong Kong 港囧, 2015), Deng Ke 邓科 (Midnight Microblog 午夜微博, 2013; Fly Me to Venus 星语心愿之再爱, 2015) and Mao Haiqing 毛海青 – provides plenty of opportunities for sight gags and his trademark humour, starting with a quietly funny scene between him and Hong Kong veteran Luo Jiaying 罗家英 [Law Kar-ying] and then introducing Fan in a noisier, more physical sequence.
The structural problem with the script is that it takes a long while to get to the nut of the plot (indebted son fakes his father’s funeral in order to collect the donations) and in doing so disperses the focus away from the father-son relationship into a series of comic sketches. Sharing in the goofy humour is Hong Kong’s Ren Dahua 任达华 [Simon Yam] as a gourmet loan shark from Macau; but he’s basically a spectator to the double act between Da Peng, as the duplicitous debtor, and Qiao as the heavy sent to get the money. Qiao, 33, whose association with Da Peng goes back to the latter’s online sketch show Diors Man 屌丝男士 (2012- ), takes over much of the goofy stuff this time, leaving Da Peng a little bereft of the comedy he’s so good at.
It’s symptomatic of a film that’s pleasant enough viewing with all its name actors – Wu Junmei 邬君梅 [Vivian Wu] even pops up as a horny neighbour with her claws into Fan’s character – but never establishes a comic tone or builds a head of steam with any plot strand. Fast-rising actress Zhang Tian’ai 张天爱, 26, who made an impressive big-screen debut in I Belonged to You 从你的全世界路过 (2016) and is terrific in costume fantasy Legend of the Naga Pearls 鲛珠传 (2017), doesn’t get much to sink her teeth into here, as a backstreets restaurateuse who holds a torch for Da Peng’s wannabe. Ren’s role is purely a pantomime villain and Fan kind of stumbles around, shouting a lot and trying to assert his proper role in the movie. The action finale, set in Macau, has an equally desperate feel, underscored with funky electronic rock.
Director Yuan Weidong 袁卫东, best known for children’s film In the Blue 浅蓝深蓝 (2006) and iffy road movie Out of Control 过界 (2008) with Guo Tao 郭涛 and Li Xiaoran 李小冉, has considerabe experience as an executive and assistant director with Hong Kong’s Xu Ke 徐克 [Tsui Hark]. He turns in a professional job with no personal signature – presumably what Da Peng required. Mainland audiences responded to the tune of a respectable but unenthusiastic RMB125 million.
Presented by Wanda Media (CN), Shanghai The City Pictures (CN). Produced by Wanda Media (CN), Shanghai Futong Culture Communication (CN).
Script: Su Liang, Deng Ke, Mao Haiqing. Original story: Deng Ke. Photography: Gao Hu. Editing: Chen Zhiwei [Andy Chan]. Music: Liang Long, Yao Yun, Gao Hang. Art direction: Wang Jing, Zhuang Zhiliang. Styling: Lai Xuanwu, Zhuang Zhiliang. Sound: Gu Changning. Action: Huang Mingsheng. Martial arts: Ge Xianglong.
Cast: Da Peng [Dong Chengpeng] (Fan Xiaobing, son), Fan Wei (Fan Yingxiong, father), Zhang Tian’ai (Liu Wen, restaurateuse), Wu Junmei [Vivian Wu] (Wu Xianxian), Qiao Shan (Fang Jian), Ren Dahua [Simon Yam] (Big Brother OK), Guo Kaimin (Li, army veteran), Ma Shuliang (Zhao, army veteran), Liang Jianping (Qian, Cantonese army veteran), Zhang Dongsheng (Sun, army veteran), Zhang Yiqian (Shuitong Nan/Water Bucket, Feng Jian’s fat sidekick), Zheng Lei (Jugan Nan/Bamboo Pole, Feng Jian’s long-haired sidekick), Peng Ziheng (Jiguan Nan/Cockscomb, Feng Jian’s third sidekick), Liang Long (Gou/Dog, Big Brother OK’s enforcer), Luo Jiaying [Law Kar-ying] (Peter), Jiaoshou Yi Xiaoxing (monk), Liu Yan (Feng Jian’s girlfriend), Wei Lu, (secretary), Li Shangzheng (Macau finance officer), Pan Binlong (tester), Qu Chuxiao (Michael), Zhang Yushan (old car-buyer).
Premiere: Shanghai Film Festival, 19 Jun 2017.
Release: China, 21 Jul 2017.