Sunday, January 07, 2018

Silly & Supernatural from China: Goldbuster & Hanson and the Beast

I take notes in foreign movies so I remember character names later, and, brother, was I happy to see Goldbuster just lay everything right out in the first five minutes. Extra star for that, although docked half a star for not having any sort of English-language end credits whatsoever.

(Kidding. But both of those things can make things easier.)

Pretty good weekend for Chinese movies, although I'm kind of curious about the way Namiya seems to have just vanished from the theater - listings showed up Thursday night, but I don't see it on the marquee Saturday and Sunday, and Boston's not listed on the China Lion website. It looked like there just might be busted projectors, because it didn't seem likely The Shape of Water was sold out all day, but I dunno. Weird.

Maybe it will reappear next week, as the only preview for Asian movies right now is Monster Hunt 2. Heck, they put a 12 Strong preview in front of Hanson, and I'm not exactly sure audiences with a big expatriate Chinese population are the ones excited for a bit of rah-rah American patriotism.

Yao ling ling (Goldbuster)

* * * (out of four)
Seen on 6 January 2018 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

Theaters that show Chinese movies in North America have been running a preview for Goldbuster that called it the most anticipated comedy of the year, and I can't rightly say whether that's a riff on it hitting American theaters on the first weekend of 2018, a riff on it hitting Chinese theaters the last weekend of 2017, or some sincere display of excitement at comedienne Sandra Ng Kwun-yu making her directorial debut. It doesn't much matter, I suppose; it's a funny enough movie to justify whatever amount of anticipation is actually being thrown at it.

It opens with a delivery man bringing someone at the Prestige Gardens apartment complex their dinner, kind of sure he's being pranked - though in the middle of the city, there's excavation all around it, as a local developer (Shen Teng) aims to build something much more profitable, and his son (Yue Yun-peng) has hired a pair of screw-ups (Pan Bing-long & Xu Jun-cong) to scare the last dug-in tenants out. Trouble is, widower acupuncturist Wang Baojin (Zhang Yi) is actually hoping for his late wife to haunt him and his non-verbal son "Chicken Little" (Li Yihang), and webcam girl Ping (Papi Jiang) actually sees her hits go up when something spooky happens. The four other residents - "inventors" Benjamin (Pan Bin-long) & Angelina (Jian Jun-yan) and fugitive gangsters Ming (Alex Fong Chung-sun) & Ren (Francis Ng Chun-yu) - could do without, so they hire spiritualist Golden Ling (Sandra Ng) to get to the bottom of this. Of course, it's not like 400 yuan gets you a real exorcist...

Much of this plot is spelled out by the guys doing the haunting in the first few minutes, complete with visual aids, that is a pretty good indication of how Ng's moxie doesn't have time for anything but nonsense. Five minutes in, you know everything you need, and from that point on, it's slapstick, silliness, and some tiny scares (if you scare really easily). Goldbuster may be a Mandarin-language film made in Mainland China, but it's freewheeling Hong Kong lunacy, almost always ready to go for the gag even if it pushes the limits of how ridiculous a character might seem. At under ninety minutes, it probably could have put some of the unused scenes glimpsed in the end credits in, but Ng and her team choose to keep things moving rather than slow things down with kind-of-funny.

Full review at EFC

Er Dai Yao Jing (Hanson and the Beast)

* * * (out of four)
Seen on 6 January 2018 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

World-building and character-based fantasy can be a trap, and Hanson and the Beast accidentally shows how this can be: For much of its running time, it's an enjoyably goofy "mythological creatures/were-people live in our midst" thing more likely to go full screwball than make one worry too much about how it all works, and that's when is at its best. Start worrying too much about how all the piece fit together, and it threatens to become no fun at all, though the filmmakers put up a good fight when that danger rears its ugly head.

Before jumping back a day or so, the movie kicks off with a terrified "Hanson" Yuan Shuai (Feng Shaofeng) running through Shanghai in his underwear after what you'd think was an epically-terrible blind date. Hanson's been on a lot of those lately, trying to find a rich wife; as an aspiring actor he wound up deep in debt due to a predatory production scam that has gangsters trying to collect nearly three million yuan, and his father's room at the mental hospital won't pay for itself. The girl he meets at a bar is different, though - Bai Xianchu (Liu Yifei) is young, cute, and determined to marry him as she has apparently been nursing a crush on him for twenty years, since they were about nine. He doesn't remember her, but that's understandable - she's a yaojing, in her case an Arctic Silver Fox, and was in her animal form at the time. Unfortunately, yaojing aren't even supposed to be friends with humans, let alone lovers, and her every change in form sets off an alarm at the local Bureau of Transfiguration. Shanghai's lead agent, Hong Sicong (Guo Jingfei), does what he can to let Bai slide, but Commissioner Yun Zhonghe (Li Guangjie) is the type that would use Bai as an example to turn yaojing-kind more against humanity.

The movie spends its first half moving way too fast to be a semi-serious romantic comedy - as much as Bai is a sweet, seemingly-uninhibited knockout in her human form, things move way too fast to really seem like the foundation for true love. But that's fine; she's clearly sincere and isn't reacting to anything that's not in Hanson, even if it is buried under some annoying practicalities right now. It's a fun set-up for madcap adventures, which co-writer/director Xiao Yang supplies, and when it's just asking the audience to roll with its fantastical nuttiness, the movie is a ton of fun. That's especially true when the visual effects and fantasy premise suit each other; Hong Sicong and his team of sexy, fashionable yaojing could have leaped right out of the pages of an over-the-top manga and Xiao owns that rather than trying to make it serious or respectable.

Full review at EFC

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