How ‘Yolo’ achieved bigger success as adaptation of Japanese ‘100 Yen Love’
Published: Feb 26, 2024 10:56 PM
A screenshot of the film <em>Yolo</em>

A screenshot of the film Yolo

Chinese comedy film Yolo, directed by and starring actress Jia Ling, has emerged as a controversial box-office champion. With over 668 million moviegoers contributing to a staggering 3.3 billion yuan ($458 million) so far in box-office revenue, even the director of the original Japanese version 100 Yen Love, Masaharu Take, has sent his blessings. 

As a cross-cultural adaptation, or remake, it is commendable that Yolo almost rivals the original's 7.1 IMDb rating with a solid 7.0. However, it has faced criticism from some Chinese netizens, from its marketing strategies to core values, and even gender issues. 

Meanwhile, Sony Pictures has secured global distribution rights to the film and is planning a worldwide release. The convergence of being a box-office champion, a remake of a Japanese original, and a global release makes Yolo a subject worthy of serious analysis from the perspective of cross-cultural communication.

Some moviegoers and netizens have compared Yolo to 100 Yen Love from the perspectives of its story, costumes, and audiovisual language but have overlooked the significant differences in their genres, as Yolo is a comedy-drama, while 100 Yen Love is a sports drama.

Comedy films are typically filled with satire and humor, portraying the transition of negative characters from prosperity to adversity, such as the boxing coach Hao Kun played by veteran actor Lei Jiayin being defeated by reality, and the transition of protagonist Du Leying played by Jia Ling going from adversity to prosperity, shifting from passivity and a people-pleasing personality to an active and independent personality.

In contrast, as a sports drama, 100 Yen Love differs. The character Ichiko Saito, portrayed by Sakura Ando, is initially inspired by watching a boxing match, where two individuals fight but ultimately embrace, providing a direct challenge to Japanese dispirited culture, reflecting a sense of demotivation, apathy or low self-esteem. After the match, Ichiko Saito continuously cries, expressing her desire to win, embodying the spirit that sports movies aim to showcase.

In a climactic moment, Du Leying in Yolo says, "I have already won," highlighting the transition of the protagonist in a comedy film to a state of prosperity, self-acknowledgment, and self-affirmation, which serves as an inspirational theme. Thus, the major change from a comedy film to a sports film genre results in different core expressions. As the foundation of genre films lies in social mainstream values and popular psychological desires, when the despondent Ichiko Saito in 100 Yen Love says, "I really want to win," it fulfills expectations, just as Du Leying, a loser in life, says, "I have already won," fulfilling her wishes.

Furthermore, due to the differences in genre and core expressions, Yolo and 100 Yen Love also exhibit distinct styles in cinematography. 100 Yen Love employs a plethora of handheld, tracking, and shaky shots, adopting a realistic approach to character portrayal and depicting a mosaic of Japanese social mourning culture, with scenes in homes, convenience stores, and boxing gyms featuring minimal dramatic lighting. Conversely, being a purely commercial endeavor, Yolo follows a non-realistic approach, featuring formulaic narrative, stereotypical characters, and emphasizing visual appeal through attractive living environments and flashy editing, thus enhancing its entertainment value.

Lastly, the key to a successful cross-cultural adaptation or remake lies in its "localization," and Yolo not only achieves localization but also "personalization." While the original 100 Yen Love focused on Japan's subculture of low socialization, Yolo portrays a journey of self-transformation leading to social acceptance. Additionally, Jia Ling, as the writer, director, and lead actress, effectively utilizes her "body shape" as a performer's element or tool, successfully crafting a character that fits the narrative, albeit this is the most criticized aspect of the film, which is quite perplexing.

The author is a film critic and judge of Beijing International Film Festival.