An expected surprise

By Sun Shuangjie Source:Global Times Published: 2015-12-21 18:13:01

One of China’s most popular Web comedies makes a successful leap to the big screen

It took more than two years for Chinese director Yi Zhenxing, better known as JoyShow Yi Xiaoxing, to cultivate the figure of Wang Dachui (acted by Bai Ke) through his unexpected and hilarious experiences in the popular Web series Unexpectedness and eventually present Wang's story in the new film Surprise.

Officially released on December 18, Surprise took 49.62 million yuan ($7.66 million) on its first day of screening.

Prior to that, during two-day advance screenings nationwide from December 12 to 13, it accumulated a box office of 110 million yuan.

The large fan base of the Web series, which was launched in August 2013 and is currently in its third season, certainly contributed much to the box office success.

Yet to see how Yi can develop from 5-minute episodes to a 95-minute film drew many new viewers to the cinema.

A scene featuring Bai Ke (right) as Wang Dachui and Yang Zishan (center) as Su Xiaomei in Surprise

Unthinking laughter

Surprise is just as hilarious as the Web series, with intensive lighthearted jokes provoking endless laughter.

Wang is still an insignificant man as he is in the Web series, where his character has been a frustrated modern employee, a conceited TV host and an unlucky ancient swordsman, to name a few.

The film is set in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), when the Chinese legend of Journey to the West took place.

This time Wang is an incompetent spirit who works for bun vendor Su Xiaomei (Yang Zishan) in a small town, which is haunted by devils but is protected by the family of Murong Bai (Ma Tianyu).

One day, Wang unexpectedly sets free a formless devil, who interrupts the journey of the Monkey King (Liu Xunzimo) and Tangseng (Berlin Chen) and also aims to destroy the town.

To win the heart of Su, Wang joins the battle alongside the Monkey King against the cunning devil, who sometimes enters into good people's bodies and possesses them.

The laughter starts right from the beginning of the film when Tangseng chants the popular lyrics "all fairy tales are lies" to comfort his disillusioned apprentices after what he said proved to be wrong.

The film provides many such jokes by making fun of popular Chinese culture, ranging from Taiwanese Chiung Yao's famous TV romance that dominated China's screens in the 1990s, to the music score from the classic film Kung Fu Hustle by Hong Kong comedian/director Stephen Chow.

Unexpectedness was popular for its hilarious content that was easily relatable to everyday life, and this is something that continues in Surprise.

Perhaps it's the popularity of pets that inspired Yi, thus he directed Wang to battle with a cat spirit in the manner of amusing a domestic cat, while the legendary god Asuras was rendered as a cute Pomeranian.

Baffled superheroes

If you think Surprise is a film about superheroes, then you are wrong. The Monkey King in the film is for most of the time deprived of his powers, and to defeat the evil side he has to enlist common people.

Although Murong has supernatural powers, he is caught in the dilemma of having to choose killing to achieve immortality or being good yet dying young.

The film offers an intricate ending section. It's really hard to predict which character will be the hero who finally beats the devil before the director unveils it to the audience, because the ending comes after a string of twists that bring the film to a climax of energy and conflict.

And after all the carefree laughter and plot twists, it is surprising to find that Yi is addressing a very serious theme.

It is moving when Yi touches upon the social phenomenon of an indifferent general public, and his appeal to people to not hesitate to show their goodness to others.

Surprise has its flaws, particularly in acting and its narrative pace.

The duet of Bai Ke and Yang Zishan have many scenes.

However, while Bai delivers the exaggerated role of Wang very naturally, Yang sometimes gives a more rigid performance.

Some of the minor roles could have been better as well.

But overall, the film is hilarious, surprising and will be particularly rewarding for fans of Unexpectedness.

A poster for the film Photos: CFP

Everyone's a critic

GT: Do you think Surprise is hilarious?

Dada Xiang, 29

"Surprise is unsurprisingly good and hilarious. It's fun from beginning to end. I find it's also a meaningful film that satirizes some bad social phenomenon."

GT: What did you think of the cinematography?

Si Yishu, 23

"It's very plain, if not bad, in pictorial quality. Maybe the style is influenced by its low-budget Web series."

GT: Who is the best actor/actress of the film?

Emma Zheng, 25

"Bai Ke. He has been playing Wang Dachui for three years and I think there is no one else who could deliver the role as he does. I also like Ma Tianyu, because he is so handsome and in the film he has successfully delivered two distinctive sides of one character."

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, Culture

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