Review of The Big Movie (大电影之数百亿; China, 2006), A Shengshi Tuhua Film & TV Company production
Director: Ah Gan
Producers: Zeng Zhiwei (Eric TSANG Chi-Wai), Deng Chiheng
Screenwriter: Ning Caishen, Ah Gan
Cinematographer: Yu Guobing
Cast: Yao Chen, Huang Bo, Zeng Zhiwei (Eric TSANG Chi-Wai), Jiao Yang
Running time: 120 MIN.
Release in China: Dec. 22, 2006.
Shaoyi’s Rating: C+ (Average)
When “The Bloody Case Caused by a Bun,” a cheaply made DV short by a Shanghai amateur parodying Chen Kaige’s $30-million-plus blockbuster The Promise, was posted on the Internet and became an instant hit throughout China, it caused an uproar from the veteran filmmaker, who onetime even threatened to take the amateur to court. Since then, “e-gao” (恶搞), a Chinese term referring to “parodying with an evil intention,” has become a popular practice in the entertainment circle of China. Many people, particularly the young, find it amusing and trendy to parody the established and the famed by using alternative media such as home video and the Internet. Ah Gan’s The Big Movie, which parodies quite a few popular titles from mainland China, Hong Kong, Korea, and Hollywood, is the latest example that even somewhat established filmmakers don’t want to let this gold-digging opportunity slip. This time, however, no fusses were reported from either side. Perhaps those who were parodied have become smarter. After all, as any Hollywood studio head would say, there is no such thing as bad press in the show business.
Besides obvious Stephen Chow-style “nonsense,” The Big Movie does have something serious to say, or at least it pretends so. To some extent, the film can be viewed as a satirical comment on the housing market “fever” in Shanghai, which sucks in all the energies of the three leading characters: a small businessman from Hong Kong, who dreams to make a fortune in booming Shanghai, a waning film star, who works as a spokesman for a housing project in hopes of getting funding from the realtor for his film, a sharp-tongued office lady whose involvement is to get her 50,000 yuan deposit back from the realtor. Money and greed are the driving forces behind everyone’s action, and the Shanghai real estate industry is oftentimes portrayed like an underground gangster world where kidnapping, cheating, and fighting speak the truth. All these are interludes, however. The film’s real intension is to make fun of (or, to use director Ah Gan’s phrase, “to pay tribute to”) all the “big movies” the director finds worthwhile. This is also where fun and laughs come from. Without sufficient knowledge of the films The Big Movie refers to, such as the opening line “Life is like a dish of roasted pigeon…,” which apparently parodies the line “Life is like a box of chocolate…” in Forrest Gump, one wouldn’t get the jokes. The same is true with the restaged scenes that make fun of Brokeback Mountain, Kung Fu Hustle, In the Mood for Love, House of Flying Daggers, and Daisy.
The Big Movie is a testament of how Chinese cinema has changed from a politics and propaganda-centered medium to the one that prioritizes light-hearted entertainment. To a certain extent, China needs this kind of films. Since the 1930s, cinema has been largely used as a tool to advance social causes and convey blatant ideological messages. Too often is it the case that Chinese cinema looks self-righteously serious and heavy-hearted. In this sense, The Big Movie offers the audience a refreshing look at how cinema can take other directions. However, this is also where the problem lies: like Borat, a recent Hollywood production that chooses laughs over meaning, The Big Movie also cannot escape the fate that, after the audience leaves cinema, there is almost nothing left for them to ponder.