The Chinese comedy Never Say Die has brought in an impressive $326 million worldwide to date. [Photo provided to China Daily]
LOS ANGELES－Chinese films are increasingly enjoying box office success. The Chinese comedy Never Say Die has brought in an impressive $326 million worldwide to date, marking another triumph after Wolf Warriors II piled up $877 million.
The film’s global tally has also earned its entry into the rarefied ranks of the “Top Ten All Time International Box Office for Comedy Movies”.
Never Say Die is a Chinese body-swapping comedy about a male mixed-martial arts boxer and a high-profile female journalist who mysteriously switch bodies after an electrically-charged kiss.
Some of its runaway success can be attributed to an avid, preexisting fan base in China, developed when it began as a popular stage play. Years of instantaneous audience feedback helped hone its robust humor to maximum effect.
Comedy doesn’t usually travel well. What serves up guffaws for one culture can fall on deaf ears for another. Chinese comedies are usually bewildering ciphers to American audiences and vice versa.
But writer-director Song Yang and Zhang Chiyu’s layered situational-based humor and laugh-out-loud slapstick comedy gives it a universal appeal that breaks those barriers.
American film producer Alan Noel Vega said, “I’ve been a fan of Chinese movies for over 15 years and am pleased to see how far they’ve come in that time. It’s great to see even their comedies finding a wider international appeal.”
What could easily have been yet another cliched, male-female, body-switching genre spoof turns out to be a hilarious gender-bender that transcends the genre to deliver a touching message on the power of love, loyalty and redemption.
The movie kicks off with the type of underhanded maligning of a man’s character that has captivated Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice fans for over two hundred years.
The film follows Ai Disheng, a mixed-martial arts fighter accused of taking a nosedive for a hefty cash payoff during a heated championship match.
His career-ending scandal, along with a damning video that catches him on camera opening a duffle bag chock-full of payola, was exposed by Ma Xiao, his reporter nemesis, a famous, arrogant, ace journalist whose history of hard-hitting exposes has left her believing she can never get it wrong. Naturally, they loathe each other.
Things take a bizarre spin when he and she collide by a swimming pool, accidentally lock lips, and fall into the water just as lightning strikes.
Naturally－as fantasies go－their consciousness mystically switches bodies, leaving his in her body and hers in his. What follows is a parade of hilarious gender-crossed situations and misunderstandings that tug at your heartstrings while they tickle your funny bone.
But the film goes beyond mere slapstick and pratfalls. There are few stories in life as satisfying as watching someone who’s been wrongfully vilified regain their good reputation while the bad-guy who framed him gets his comeuppance.
And if you can roll in a “feel good” love story and an underdog sports triumph too, chances are you’ll hit a gland slam and take home the winning trophy.
Never Say Die did that in spades.
The directors reunited Chinese comedic stars, Ai Lun and Ma Li, the leads from Mahua’s previous, whose experience in comedic theater made them perfectly-suited for these roles.
Both leads were able to walk a delicate line between projecting “too little” and “too much.” Many comedies fail when the film or the actors try too hard and lose that fresh, spontaneous sense of fun or whimsy.
With this scrappy film still duking it out in theaters with the majors, it’s already proved it’s got the stuff of champions.