Taiwan/China/Hong Kong, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 91 mins.
Director: Cai Kangyong 蔡康永 [Kevin Tsai].
Taiwan’s Xu Xidi [Dee Hsu] makes a strong big-screen debut in a film that’s basically a series of sketches.
Somewhere in Chinese-speaking East Asia. Shangguan Didi (Xu Xidi) has a recurrent dream in which she is Xu Chunmei, proprietress of a space-station noodle bar of the future, who falls for a handsome customer, an astronaut (Li Zifeng) from Sector 49. In real life Shangguan Didi is a wannabe actress who scrapes by on bit parts and spends her days attending humiliating auditions. Her longtime live-in boyfriend, Kouzi (Jin Shijia), who works in a mini-mart, is quietly supportive. When, after a routine check-up, she learns she has a malignant brain tumour and only a year to live, she starts to accept any jobs – including mud-wrestling on TV – just “to feel alive”. One day, thanks to one of her audition videos going viral, she is invited on a well-known chat show, where she’s questioned about her relationship with her elder sister, famous actress Shangguan Lingling (Lin Zhiling), whose celebrity she has always craved but whom she hasn’t seen since a bad falling-out three years ago. As a result, Shangguan Didi is opportunistically cast opposite her, playing the younger sister in high-profile palace drama Monochrome Princesses, directed by veteran Xia Wuji. When Shangguan Lingling is embroiled in a scandal over her married lover, lawyer Fang (Huang Tenghao), she calls Shangguan Didi and asks her to drop out of the film. Shangguan Didi refuses. On the first day of shooting, Shangguan Didi ends up arguing with her elder sister in front of the press and is taken to hospital with head pains. Shangguan Lingling learns her younger sister has only six months to live. Meanwhile, in Shangguan Didi’s dreams, things are also going wrong at Xu Chunmei’s noodle bar in space.
Taiwan presenter-singer Xu Xidi 徐熙娣 [Dee Hsu], aka Little S 小S, makes a confident, and very likeable, big-screen debut in Didi’s Dreams “吃吃地”的爱, a romantic comedy-cum-fantasy centred on a klutzy wannabe actress who’s always lived in the shadow of her elder sister. Best known as the co-host of the cheeky, long-running comedy chat show Kangsi Coming 康熙来了 (2004-16), Xu, 38, brings all of her slightly goofy charm intact to the big screen and manages to animate the very episodic movie to the end. However, apart from a clever twist that links the fantasy and reality sections, the film isn’t much more than a series of comic sketches. Some are very funny – Xu, as ever, is physically game for anything – but the mass of cameos by Taiwan personalities marks Didi as basically a local, throwaway entertainment. Despite the popularity of Kangxi Coming throughout Greater China – which explains Didi‘s co-funding – in the Mainland the movie has been trampled on by foreign blockbusters released at the same time, managing only a minimal RMB30 million in its first two weeks.
Didi is the brainchild of Cai Kangyong 蔡康永 [Kevin Tsai], 55, an actor-writer who was Xu’s tacky but colourful co-host on Kangsi Coming and who makes his directing debut here. Cai has come up with a story that cleverly uses elements of Xu’s own background – she’s also the younger sister of a well-known actress-singer, the sparky (and now retired) Xu Xiyuan 徐熙媛 [Barbie Hsu], aka Big S 大S, who played the trashy psychopath in Reign of Assassins 剑雨 (2010) – while adding some sororial antagonism to the plot. Unfortunately, Cai can’t think much beyond individual parodies and comic sketches, which is fine during the first half when he’s setting the characters and building a (kind of) plot. But at the point where the film should start to make some emotional impact, he starts to fall back on some of the same melodramatic cliches he’s parodied in the first half.
Didi isn’t helped by the elder sister being played by onetime supermodel Lin Zhiling 林志玲, 42, who, in an extremely extended “guest appearance”, drifts through the film as if she’s in a separate dimension. An actress who occasionally strikes lucky (Love on Credit 幸福额度, 2011; Switch 天机•富春山居图, 2013) but too often relies on just her celebrity status (This Is Not What I Expected 喜欢你, 2017), Lin, who’s worked with Xu before, speaks her lines like a machine and shows minimal chemistry as the elder, alienated sister. Xu’s other co-star, Shanghai swimmer-turned-actor Jin Shijia 金世佳, 30, who played the title character in rural drama A Fool 一个勺子 (2014), is more likeable as Didi’s easygoing boyfriend but, apart from not getting in the way as Xu bounces around the screen, makes little impression of his own. As Didi’s “dream lover”, Mainland actor-model Li Zifeng 李子峰, 30, is OK as boyish beefcake.
The problem is that Xu has no one long-term to play off against on-screen, in the way she forged a partnership with Cai in Kangsi Coming (see left). She’s terrific when faced with various celebrity cameos – such as Zhao Zhengping 赵正平, as the director of a commercial in which she plays a stomach germ, or Shen Yulin 沈玉琳, bullying her into repeating a tongue-twister about carps and a donkey (红鲤鱼与绿鲤鱼与驴) – but beyond those sketches she’s basically carrying the film on her own, either literally (when she’s being physically humiliated in auditions) or emotionally (when she’s dominating scenes with others, as in the futuristic noodle-bar episodes). The only other big enough character is the brassy film producer played by Shanghai presenter Fan Tiantian 范湉湉 (One Night Only 天亮之前, 2016; What a Day! 有完没完, 2017) but their moments together are few. If Xu could find a suitable comedy partner, she could still make her mark on the big screen.
On a very comfy reported budget of NT$250 million/RMB55 million, the production looks fine though not in any way lavish. The modern-day setting is a deliberately placeless, Mandarin-speaking world – created out of locations in Taiwan and the Mainland – where most people have Taiwan accents but simplified characters are also used. The Chinese nonsense title literally means “‘Eat Eat’ Love”, which Cai has explained as equating great love with great food.
Presented by Le Vision Pictures (CN), Le Vision Pictures (Hong Kong) (HK), HT Entertainment (TW), Atom Cinema (TW), Kbro HK (HK). Produced by HT Entertainment (TW).
Script: Cai Kangyong [Kevin Tsai], Liao Mingyi. Photography: Yu Jingping. Editing: Su Peiyi. Music: Hou Zhijian.
Cast: Xu Xidi (Shangguan Didi; Xu Chunmei), Lin Zhiling (Shangguan Lingling), Jin Shijia (Kouzi/Button; no. 51), Li Zifeng (astronaut no. 49), Chen Handian (Chen Diandian, chat-show host), Fan Tiantian (Zhou, film producer), Zhao Zhengping (commercials director), Shen Yulin (TV shopping-channel producer), Liang Hequn (commercials producer), Chen Weimin (commercials auditioner), Han Yibang (film director), Lin Ruqi (commercials auditioner), Huang Tenghao (Fang, lawyer/Shangguan Lingling’s lover), Zhang Keyun (Tian Mei, TV-show competitor), Yang Shengda (male auditionee), Xie Yilin (Xiao Hold, wrestling competitor), Guo Wenyi (Shoushou/Skinny, fat female auditionee), Li Qingtian.
Release: Taiwan, 27 May 2017; China, 27 May 2017; Hong Kong, 3 Jun 2017.