On the road

In a busy week for cinema releases, Ning Hao hopes for box office gold

Chang Chun-ning w

Chang Chun-ning: stars in Black and White with Huang Bo

In the film Sideways, Paul Giamatti plays Miles, a divorcee and failed writer, who takes off with his longtime friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) for a week of bonding before Jack gets married. But the two men quickly realise that their definition of adventure is very different. Miles wants to spend the week relaxing, golfing and enjoying some good wine. Jack, on the other hand, is on the prowl and wants one last fling, before settling into domestic life.

Chinese director Ning Hao has also made a film about two friends hitting the road. Break-up Buddies tells the story of a recently divorced man who goes on a road trip in southern China with his best friend (and a pet dog), in this case to search for a new lady.

The story sounds straightforward enough, but the comedy has raised eyebrows for being raunchy by Chinese standards. The film features a couple having sex in a car while grannies dance nearby, as well as scenes featuring lesbians and sex toys, says the Wall Street Journal, which was given a preview before the film opened on Tuesday.

The movie is being released during the lucrative one-week holiday that began on Wednesday with China’s National Day.

Director Ning has preferred to focus on some of the other themes in Break-up Buddies. “We are in a transitional phase of the society when absurdity and conflicts stand out,” he says. “Modern China is very absurdist, so I like to apply absurdist qualities to my films.”

Yue Xiaojun, the scriptwriter, offers another interpretation. “The film is about a middle-age crisis. The crisis not only reflects on marriage, it can also be on your career or something else. When the time has come, each one of them at their middle age would have their own problems. I think the film can reflect the feelings of the people who were born in the seventies.”

Break-up Buddies reunites Huang Bo and Xu Zheng, two popular comedians who also starred in the (then record-breaking) 2012 comedy Lost in Thailand. Dalian Evening News reckons that the road film genre, combined with the popular duo, is going to dominate the box office again over the holiday period.

But it is going to be a busy week of promotion for Huang. In addition to Break-up Buddies, the actor also stars in two more films that are released this week. In Dearest, a drama directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Peter Chan, he plays a father who struggles to cope with the disappearance of his young son. And Huang is also one of the stars in Black and White: The Dawn of Justice. The action thriller, which premieres on October 1, features Taiwan’s Mark Chao and actress Chang Chun-ning.

To hear NetEase describe it, “moviegoers can choose between Huang Bo the comedian, Huang Bo the tearjerker, and Huang Bo the triad. The point is, Huang has thoroughly dominated the October National Day holiday week.”

It is not the first time that Huang is effectively competing against himself to attract cinema audiences. Two years ago, the actor also starred in three films – Lost in Thailand, Journey To the West: Conquering the Demons and the romantic comedy Say Yes. The three hits raked in a total of Rmb3 billion ($489 million) at the box office, says Dalian Evening News. Critics say it remains to be seen whether he can break his personal record.

Huang first became a household name after the surprise success of Crazy Stone, a low-budget comedy also directed by Ning. The film’s success, along with its sequel Crazy Racer, cemented Huang’s reputation. In 2009, he won Best Leading Actor at the Taiwanese Golden Horse Awards, one of the most prestigious in Asia’s movie calendar, for his role as an idiotic farmer taking care of his village’s cow during the Sino-Japanese War in the 1940s.

Huang reckons that his popularity is based largely on his regular-guy appeal: “I don’t have the face and body figure of a superstar, so the viewers may find [me] more identifiable. When people meet me on the street, they won’t react in the way [as they would if] they came across Andy Lau or Tony Leung. That doesn’t happen to me. The most they do is to come over and tap on my shoulder,” he told Time Out in an interview.

This year’s week-long holiday is going to be competitive for film releases. Ann Hui will also release her highly-anticipated drama Golden Era, starring Tang Wei (see WiC251). There’s also Sun Honglei’s One Step Away, a film about wartime lovers, plus two Hollywood movies, Into The Storm and Divergent. The battle among animated films is likely to be even more intense. In total, nine animations will screen between the end of September and early October, including the family-friendly McDull: Me and My Mum and sci-fi offering Kuiba III.

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