Some Like It Hot
China, 2016, colour, 2.35:1, 113 mins.
Directors: Song Xiaofei 宋晓飞, Dong Xu 董旭.
A very likeable, well-cast rom-com for Gen-80ers that puts some life back into the Mainland genre.
Guangzhou, southern China. Xiao Han (Xiao Yang), a 30-something marketing manager at fashion company Shanshan, wakes up on the 14th-floor ledge of a hotel building wearing only a bathrobe. After telling everyone he’s not going to jump, he admits to his wife “I made a mistake” and jumps. One month earlier, Xiao Han and his four old university pals – nightclub owner Liu Lei, gay Tang Huai, driver Ai Mu – had been deeply affected by the sudden heart attack of their mutual friend Wang Kun (Deng Chao), who died a virgin at the age of 36. They decide that life must be lived to the full while one can. In his office’s underground car park, Xiao Han is smitten by Youyou (Yi Seong-min), a beautiful South Korean model whose red dress blows up when she walks over a ventilation grate. Seeing her waiting in the office of his boss, Ma Lilian (Yan Ni), he calls her and invites her to dinner – his wife, Shen Hong (Dai Lele) is away on business – but the phone is picked up by Ma Lilian, who is flattered and accepts. However, Shen Hong returns unexpectedly and Liu Lei’s girlfriend, Liang Ying (Che Xiao), comes round to ask Shen Hong’s help, as she’s found Liu Lei has secretly booked a hotel room, so must be having an affaire. The hotel is the same one at which Xiao Han has arranged his clandestine dinner date. When Xiao Han, Shen Hong and Liang Ying arrive at the room, Liu Lei escapes by the skin of his teeth. Next day, Ma Lilian is hot happy at being stood up by Xiao Han, though Xiao Han still thinks he stood up Youyou. While Xiao Han follows Youyou around, with various disastrous results, Ai Mu falls for Ma Lilian, though she thinks his anonymous presents are from Xiao Han. Ma Lilian then assigns Xiao Han to check up on a beach shoot by Youyou that’s being filmed by his office rival, Chang Jian (Chang Yuan). He willingly accepts, and Youyou invites him to dinner. But then a hot-to-trot Ma Lilian turns up in his hotel room.
A surprise hit during the end-of-year period, raking in a handsome RMB660 million in China, Some Like It Hot 情圣 is a super-slick rom-com that puts some life back into a genre that seemed to be losing its mojo in the Mainland. It’s not especially starrily cast, and is directed by two first-timers – d.p. Song Xiaofei 宋晓飞, 41, who’s shot several comedies with actor Huang Bo 黄渤 (Cow 斗牛, 2009; Design of Death 杀生, 2012; Lost in Thailand 人再囧途之泰囧, 2012; Breakup Buddies 心花路放, 2014), and sound technician Dong Xu 董旭 (Design of Death; Lost in Thailand). But performances are all in the right key – more naturalistic than goofy, and allowing the actors some space between the plot cogs – and, more importantly, making everyone sympathetic, despite their faults.
It’s actually the second remake of the 1976 French comedy Un éléphant ça trompe énormément (known in English as Pardon Mon Affaire), with Jean Rochefort as a middle-aged married man who falls hard for an unattainable beauty in red (Anny Duperey). Directed and co-written by Yves Robert, then at the top of his game, it was remade by Hollywood – not very well – as The Woman in Red (1984) as a vanity production for comedian Gene Wilder, who wrote, directed and starred. This Chinese remake convincingly transposes the action to modern-day Guangzhou, creates a likeable quartet of male pals, and (for a film that’s essentially about male sexual insecurities and cheating on your partner) a couple of strong female roles. It also casts a real stunner in the crucial part of the protagonist’s dream woman.
The script by Yu Miao 于淼 and Li Xiao 李潇, who co-wrote the fine TV drama May-December Love 2 小丈夫 (2016) and also worked on the Sun Honglei 孙红雷 TVD To Be a Better Man 好先生 (2016), follows the original closely at the beginning (the opening, the iconic skirt-blowing scene, arranging the dinner date) but follows its own course more and more after that. Alas, the script basically runs out of plot at the 80-minute mark, and has to concoct a Thailand sequence and time-wasters like a tour of Guangzhou Safari Park to get the protagonist to the hotel ledge with which the film began. As a whole, the movie could easily take a 10-minute trim.
The biggest change, however, is that the French original dealt with a mid-life crisis of men in their 40s, whereas this remake centres on men who are still in full bloom in their 30s. As a result, all the talk of living life to the full while one still can is less convincing (and sensibly not dwelt on too much by the writers). The film is more a plot-driven relationships comedy in which the main protagonist, married-with-daughter Xiao Han – as well as his womanising friend, Liu Lei – just about manages to conceal his infidelities. The other two men in the central quartet aren’t much more than comic supports, one an unlucky-in-love homosexual, the other a put-upon friend who falls for Xiao Han’s female boss.
Despite ironing out the original into a slick, plot-driven rom-com for Gen-80ers, it’s still well-played within those limits. Despite looking completely different, 36-year-old actor-director Xiao Yang 肖央 (the sleazy police detective in Detective Chinatown 唐人街探案, 2015; the gay art connoisseur in Super Express 超级快递, 2016) shows a similar talent for blank-faced comedy as the original’s Rochefort, especially as he here reins back his propensity to mug. The actors playing his pals, though not especially high-profile, blend well; but the most memorable performances are actually from the women – TV’s Dai Lele 代乐乐, 34, as Xiao Han’s ever-suspicious wife, Swiss-born Korean actress-model Yi Seong-min 이성민 | 李成敏 [Clara Lee], 31, as the voluptuous dream woman (whose opening scene is turned into a major production number), and especially film/TV veteran Yan Ni 闫妮, 46, who almost steals the show as Xiao Han’s horny boss.
Yan, who’s never given an uninteresting performance, and reportedly shed 15 kilos for this role, looks fabulous and is terrific as the hero’s sexually repressed, middle-aged boss who opens up to her employee’s supposed advances. Yan plays the role with style and no embarrassment; best of all are the scenes in which she exacts revenge the following day for being stood up. Yan first met co-director Song on Cow, and he thought of her for the part.
Besides the clean, summery photography, by Song himself and co-d.p. Pei Liwei 裴力威 (who shared duties with Song on Beijing Love Story 北京爱情故事, 2014), other technical contributions are top drawer, from editing by Tu Yiran 屠亦然 to costumes by Lin Mu 林木 (both of whom also worked on Design of Death). Some Like It Hot is an unhappy choice of English title, as the film bears no resemblance to Billy Wilder’s classic 1959 comedy starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. (The iconic skirt-blowing scene is a homage to Monroe’s The Seven Year Itch, 1955, not to the Wilder film.) The Chinese title, which means “Love Master” or “Casanova”, is the same as that of the 1991 Hong Kong confidence-trickster comedy The Magnificent Scoundrels 情圣, starring Zhou Xingchi 周星驰 [Stephen Chow] and Mao Shunyun 毛舜昀 [Teresa Mo], but there’s no connection between the two movies.
Presented by New Classics Media (CN), Shanghai Ruyi Jiepanxia Film & TV Production (CN), Wanda Media (CN). Produced by Befun Film & TV Production (CN).
Script: Yu Miao, Li Xiao. Original script: Jean-Loup Dabadie, Yves Robert. Photography: Song Xiaofei, Pei Liwei. Editing: Tu Yiran. Music: Li Bin, Gao Xiaoyang, Wang Zhe. Music direction: Wang Zhe. Art direction: Shu Xingjia. Costume design: Lin Mu, Fu Lei. Sound: Dong Xu, Zhang Jia, Xiao Baohua. Action: Chen Chunkun. Choreography: Jin Shan, Liu Hong. Visual effects: He Yu. Executive direction: He Yu.
Cast: Xiao Yang (Xiao Han), Yan Ni (Ma Lilian), Xiao Shen Yang (Liu Lei), Qiao Shan (Tang Huai), Ai Lun (Ai Mu), Dai Lele (Shen Hong, Xiao Han’s wife), Chang Yuan (Chang Jian), Yi Seong-min [Clara Lee] (Youyou/Yoyo), Deng Chao (Wang Kun/Queen Wang), Wang Xun (painter), Tian Yu (university teacher), Zhou Xiao’ou, Zhao Yingjun (gravediggers), Che Xiao (Liang Ying, Liu Lei’s girlfriend), Yang Chengcheng (head fireman), Zhong Luchun (jogging beauty), Chen Xiyan (Xiao Lele, Xiao Han’s daughter), Gao Yunli (cleaning lady), Xu Dongdong (billiards beauty), Yang Di (Xiaosun), Yan Renxian (Youyou’s agent), Yin Chunji (Youyou’s boyfriend), Yue Xiaojun.
Release: China, 30 Dec 2016.