From ‘Mr. Loser’ to Mr. Winner

By Xu Ming Source:Global Times Published: 2015-10-15 19:23:01

Domestic Chinese film becomes sleeper hit of holiday season

Stills from Goodbye Mr. Loser, starring Ma Li. 


Stills from Goodbye Mr. Loser, starring Shen Teng. Photos: CFP

It's not enough to say that recent film Goodbye Mr. Loser is popular now. Looking to watch the film for this article, I caught an early morning matinee showing of the film thinking I'd have the theater all to myself. To my surprise dozens of people were already lined up and waiting for the theater to open its doors when I got there.

Currently, Goodbye Mr. Loser has the largest screen occupancy of any movie in China, even outshining other popular films such as Lost in Hong Kong and Inside Out. And the film's reputation is continuing to spread, attracting an increasing number of people to cinemas. According to the latest data, the film's box office reached 1 billion yuan ($157 million) on Wednesday, making it the fourth film to break the billion yuan mark in China this year.

A film that doesn't feature any big names attached to it, Goodbye Mr. Loser failed to draw all that much attention when it premiered on September 30. However, over the following National Day holidays, Goodbye Mr. Loser struck back to become one of the biggest box office hits.  

Dark horse rises

Goodbye Mr. Loser, which tells the story of man going through a mid-life crisis who wakes up back in high school, has become almost a household name in China after its huge financial success. 

Even though Mahua FunAge, the comedy troupe that produced the movie, has its fanbase and reputation for producing interesting stage plays, both the directors (Yan Fei and Peng Damo) and main actors (Shen Teng and Ma Li) are new faces to big screen. Compared with long anticipated star-studded films like Lost in Hong Kong (a spiritual sequel to box office miracle Lost in Thailand) and Ghost Blows Out: The Nine-Story Demon Tower, the film barely registered on most people's radars before it came out.

Back when I interviewed Shen in July, right after he and his Mahua FunAge team won comedy reality show Merry Comedians, he mentioned how the troupe was taking one of its stage plays and turning it into a film. Piquing my interest I searched online for additional information, but couldn't find anything significant. It seemed the film just couldn't arouse media interest.

Keeping an eye on the film over the following months, I noticed that even as the film approached its premiere date, it still failed to garner much attention from media or moviegoers despite Mahua FunAge's reputation for comedy. While many films nowadays rely on sheer marketing power to create big opening box office results, Goodbye Mr. Loser would live or die by what initial groups of moviegoers thought about the film.

To try and get as many people in theater's for the premiere as possible, starting at the end of August Mahua FunAge began a tour of more than 20 cities to preview the film. This effort paid off. With the help of those who saw the preview, the film started with a high 8.4 on on the day of its premiere.

After the film premiered, word of mouth, including endorsements from celebrities like writer Han Han and TV host He Jiong, helped the film gain momentum.

As such, despite mediocre box office returns during its first few days in theaters, the film was able to bring in a continued stream of moviegoers. With its current momentum, the film is expected to surpass the box office of Lost in Thailand (1.26 billion yuan).

Story is king

Goodbye Mr. Loser is not the only film to become a success through word of mouth this year, Wolf Warriors and Monkey King: Hero is Back are two other examples. However, as a low-budget film, its success no doubt will stimulate confidence for similar films, demonstrating that big names and giant budgets are no longer the only paths that can guarantee box office success.

The plot of Goodbye Mr. Loser is rather straightforward. A middle-aged man dissatisfied with life finds himself suddenly back in high school. Initially seeing this as a chance for a fresh start, he slowly comes to realize that the reality he is trying to escape from, including his plain wife, is actually everything he wants from life. It doesn't take much digging to understand that the theme here is "being happy with what you have." However, while this part of the movie is fairly straightforward it makes the perfect stage for some truly hilarious comedy.

Like the film's posters say: "Let's laugh together."

In this, the film succeeds in making the audience laugh all the way through the movie. Whether it's the actors' performances or the dialogues, everything about the movie demonstrates a team who tackle comedy seriously and with sincerity. The moments of warmth and thought-provoking scenarios are typical of Mahua FunAge's work, which looks to inspire people as well as make them laugh.

Of course, sometimes the plot moves forward a little too rapidly and the film seems to be trying a bit too hard to amuse the audience, but that doesn't keep it from being a good comedy.

A strong story and quality performances are king when it comes to making a good film. While Mahua FunAge's marketing preview tour was able to get its foot in the door with audiences, it was the fact that they made a great film that brought in a larger audience. In the end it was quality, not a huge marketing budget that won the day - a lesson that studios will hopefully learn from.

Of course taller trees catch the most wind. On Thursday, a movie critic going by the handle Wenbai published a long blog post on Sina Weibo accusing the film of stealing from Francis Ford Coppola's 1986 film Peggy Sue Got Married.

Shen has responded to the accusation saying that he "never watched that movie and it is a coincidence if they look similar."

Seeing the enthusiasm audiences have for Goodbye Mr. Loser, hopefully  some further explanation will be able to clear up any doubts.

Posted in: Film

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