Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Chinese Romantic Fantasies: Beautiful Accident & DiDi's Dream

So much Chinese cinema hit Boston screens this weekend that one movie wound up at Fenway, which is where China Lion stuff came out for a while between their deal with AMC expiring and the guys program Boston Common realizing that Chinatown was right behind them. I was planning on making these two a cross-town double feature over the weekend, but it didn't quite shake out that way

At any rate, I was glad to see that both of them wound up better than expected. I didn't particularly love Beautiful Accident, but I liked that it has a bigger effect on the main character's attitude than her dreams and ambitions. It's less transformative than usual, but that's fine, perhaps even admirable.

I really liked DiDi's Dream, though, and while "from the studio that brought you ____" often doesn't mean that much, I couldn't help but note that Cheng Cheng was the group that distributed She Remembers, He Forgets and SoulMate here, and it's not hard to see a pattern: Aside from all three having female leads and multiple timelines, they all seem to trade a little bit of the crowd-pleasing material for melancholy and the folks who let you down just messing up rather than turning out to be bad people.

Granted, they've only been able to get about half the movies they distribute into Boston, so the others may go a different route. They're something like the #4 distributor of Chinese films in the USA, after China Lion, Magnum, and Well Go (we'll see how the guys who have been pushing Wu Kong in trailers do), aiming for something a bit less mainstream but still pretty accessible if you don't mind the Chinese subtitles. It's kind of amazing to me that, over the past few years, the market for Chinese-language movies in the U.S. has gotten big enough that these companies can all have specialties, to the point where you could pretty easily tell which one playing this weekend was from China Lion, Well Go, and Cheng Cheng.

Mei Hao De Yi Wai (Beautiful Accident)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 June 2017 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

I'm a bit of two minds on Beautiful Accident - on the one hand, it's very easy to see this movie taking its premise of a career woman suddenly being placed in the position of a housewife for a week due to a filing mishap in the afterlife and getting entirely too cute with it, and when it ended, I found myself fairly pleased that it hadn't. The flip side of that, though, is that as the movie was playing out, it never quite seemed to manage the clever, weird, or really involving things it might have. It hits a lot of spots that mark a clear path but verges on making them a little too well-considered, and could use a bit of chaos.

The lawyer is Lee Yu Ran (Gwei Lun-mei), who demonstrates her cutthroat nature by intimidating the mother of a teenager who has been attacked her boyfriend. In her mid-thirties and never married, she's going to Germany to study in a few weeks, something that seems highly unlikely when she a truck smashes into her car. But, as Director Lee (Wang Jingchun) points out when she arrives in the "Terminal of Fate", she has arrived early, but so has someone else, who has moved on, so if Yu Ran could take her place for a week (they will update the "settings" for everyone else so as not to notice that Yu Ran still has her own name and face), she can get back to her own life. Of course, the folks at the Terminal didn't mention husband Zhang Tao (Kun Chen) or kids Xing Xing (Nana Ou-yang) and Tian Tian (William Wang Yuan-ye), and that nine-year-old Tian believes aliens have replaced his mother with a clone while she is on a trip to space.

Though the filmmakers leave some odd gaps when moving the plot along initially - most everything with the Terminal workers involves them withholding information from Yu Ran so that she'll seem foolish despite it being in their best interests for her to succeed - they prove pretty fair at using the look of the film to set tone quickly. The bits with Yu Ran's real life have a nice background detail like her martial-arts workout clothes being perfectly pressed for each obvious thing like her solitary dinner of rare steak and wine afterward. The afterlife is, of course, a Gilliam-esque bureaucracy, although not to pointless excess, and the life into which she is inserted is colorful but a bit faded. Director He Weiting and company are careful with their choices without ever pushing them so far that a viewer sees things as unreal.

Full review on EFC.

"Chi Chi" De Ai (DiDi's Dream)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 5 June 2017 in Regal Fenway #7 (first-run, DCP)

This one really took me by surprise; the lowest-profile of three Chinese-language movies to open in North America on the same date, it wouldn't be a surprise if it were the scraps that someone had to settle for. Instead, it's an odd charmer, coming on like good screwball comedy and then getting much sweeter than I would have expected. It's genuinely eccentric but also impressively sincere.

Shangguan LingLing (Lin Chiling) is one of Taiwan's most popular actresses, a superstar about to start a new picture with legendary director Xia Wuji. Her younger sister, Shangguan DiDi (Dee Hsu Hsi-ti), is not so successful by a long shot, getting jobs at the fringes of show business in between auditioning for sadistic producers. Her boyfriend Button (Jin Shijia) is nice, though. But, just as DiDi gets news that encourages her to make a big push in her career, LingLing finds herself involved in a scandal that the studio producing her new film could use some distraction from, and casting the previously-obscure sister that she hasn't spoken to in years would do it.

Not that it starts out with that - no, it starts out in a noodle shop on a space station, with the camera doing one of those impossible tracking shots through a frozen moment in time. If it were just a genre fake-out like Pang Ho-cheung recently pulled at the start of Love Off the Cuff, it would be fun, but filmmaker Kevin Tsai Kang-yong shoots it so that it always looks like someone might have moved over in the corner, a bit of knowing artificiality which pays off just far enough from the expected way to get a bigger laugh than expected. Tsai segues from this to having a lot of fun with show business silliness, poking at how every dumb thing one sees on TV has somebody with greater ambitions behind it with some really well-executed jokes; there's a bit involving a line being a tongue-twister that scores even if one doesn't speak a bit of Mandarin because of how well the cast approaches it (I actually wonder how well it works for Mandarin-speakers; it's not actually subtitled in English until an end-credits callback, so I didn't realize what utter nonsense it was until then).

Full review on EFC.

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