Director: Peng Damo, Yan Fei
Cast: Shen Teng, Ma Li, Yin Zheng
Runtime: 1 hr 44 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 29 October 2015
Synopsis: Comedians Shen Teng and Mai Li star in this film adaptation of the very popular Mainland theater play following the story of a middle-aged loser who finds himself magically transported back to his high school years, enabling him to fix all his life's mistakes.
Contrary to its title, ‘Goodbye Mr Loser’ has been an unexpected box-office winner in China since opening about a month ago, its success especially notable because its lead stars Shen Teng, Ma Li and Wang Zhi are not household names. Yet thanks to strong word-of-mouth, this big-screen adaptation of a popular Mainland theatre play has struck a chord with local audiences. Indeed, it really isn’t hard to see why; alternating effortlessly between laugh-out-loud comedy and sweet yet poignant moments, it hits all the right notes – and we mean this literally as well – to be a true crowd-pleaser, no matter that it could do with a little more polish and finesse.
Adapted and directed by Peng Damo and Yan Fei from their stage production, it tells of the middle-aged amateur musician Xia Luo (Shen Teng) who gets an opportunity to live life differently when he is magically transported back to his high-school days after he crashes the wedding of his high-school crush Qiu Ya (Wang Zhi). Instead of ending up marrying the fiercely loyal but less attractive Ma Dongmei (Ma Li), Xia Luo is now given another opportunity to pursue Qiu Ya, which he eventually succeeds in doing but at Dongmei’s expense and to Dongmei’s chagrin. As boorish and brusque as she may be, there is no doubting Dongmei’s love for Xia Luo, though the latter only has eyes for Qiu Ya.
Crucial to his ability to reverse his own fortune in this alternate timeline of his life is Xia Luo’s memory of his other life; in particular, his success is predicated on his memories of popular Mandopop and Cantopop songs that he recalls from his other life, which he now passes off as his own. Though he now has fame, fortune and a beautiful wife, Xia Luo finds himself unhappy, and it is this simmering sense of discontent that leads him to seek out Dongmei to see how she is doing, through which he not only learns of the sacrifices that Dongmei had made for him but also gains a comparative lens through which to view how fortunate he in fact was to have married such a loving wife in Dongmei in his previous life.
Admittedly, the story of a person who gets to see how life would have been like if he had attained the things he presently covets for and through that process learns to appreciate the things he has isn’t a new narrative construct – and let’s just say that it does conclude on a very predictable note – but what this fable lacks in originality it makes up for with a firmly tongue-in-cheek sensibility and a genuine heart.
Yes, there are plenty of slapstick bits especially in the first and second act, which sees the overgrown Xia Luo scheme, weasel and connive his way into winning Qiu Ya’s affections without much care or thought of Dongmei or his other schoolmates, including the over-achiever Yuan Hua (Yin Zheng) who also has the hots for Qiu Ya and the loutish Chun (Ai Lun) who is secretly in love with Dongmei. Much of the humour is also laced with nostalgia, with nods to iconic moments in the past (such as the handover of Hong Kong in 1997) as well as riffs on popular contemporary pop culture icons (like the reality singing competition ‘China’s Got Talent’). The pace is consistently fast and frenetic, but there is no denying that Peng and Yan have a field day drawing up what could happen had someone of the present returned to the past and re-written the books of history.
Amidst the ostensibly over-the-top moments is a much more tender core that emerges in the last act, and no matter that it does get a little too maudlin at times, there is a heartfelt message within about treasuring the ones who love you most and the times spent with them. More cynical minded audiences will inevitably dismiss this change of tone as didactic, but Shen Teng and Ma Li never short-change their audience with less than sincere performances, delivering real pathos in their portrayal of a married couple who has been through thick and thin, ups and downs, trials and tribulations without consciously realising just how much their love for each other has been a mutual beacon of strength.
More than its madcap humour, it is this touching message packed in an emotional wallop that is probably why it has resonated so distinctly with audiences in China. And really, it is one that should resonate across cultures, not to mention its wacky, wild laughs that will have you in stitches. Though as a film it does have a couple of rough edges, there is more than enough humour, heart and wit to make it a winning delight, as well as some genuinely pleasing ‘MTV-style’ sequences in between to add to its charm.
(Alternating effortlessly between laugh-out-loud comedy and sweet poignant moments, this surprise box-office hit in China is an unbridled crowd-pleasing delight)
Review by Gabriel Chong