Not ‘crazy’ enough

Comedy king Ning Hao’s latest production takes a new direction


Liu Yan boosted ticket sales for My Dear Liar using a live-stream online

It has been a busy month for livestreamers like Viya, who have been selling thousands of brands over the Singles’ Day season (see last week’s Talking Point).

Celebrity livestreamers like her were doing business frantically in the run-up to the annual extravaganza on November 11 and almost Rmb20 billion ($2.84 billion), or 7.5%, of the total sales on the day itself, were said to come from livestream platforms.

Viya also took the lead role in another new departure for the livestreaming stars – selling cinema tickets for a soon-to-be released film. She was joined by Shen Ao, the director of My Dear Liar, and Liu Yan and Da Pang, two of its lead actors, in pitching vouchers that discounted tickets for the film to as little as Rmb19.9.

Within seconds, all 66,666 vouchers were sold out, with more than eight million people tuning in to watch the live broadcast at one point.

The film’s distributors quickly offered 30,000 more vouchers, which were soon snapped up as well.

Produced by the well-known filmmaker Ning Hao, My Dear Liar has actually earned lukewarm reviews. Total ticket sales of Rmb150 million in its first week of release have been uninspiring as well. That’s a disappointment for Ning, who is best known for his ‘Crazy’ trilogy – Crazy Stone (2006), Crazy Racer (2009) and Crazy Alien (2019) – and has a reputation as something of a box office king. Breakup Buddies, a smash hit in 2014, made Rmb1.2 billion in ticket sales. His most recent feature Crazy Alien took Rmb2.2 billion.

Shen is one of Ning’s protégés from the Bad Monkey 72 Film Project, a mentorship programme founded in 2012. Wen Wuya, director of the hugely popular Dying to Survive, is another new talent plucked from the same programme.

The tie-up with Viya’s livestreaming empire will also have been seen as a way of playing up the film’s plot. Like a lot of Ning’s previous work, My Dear Liar is a quirky comedy with a melancholy streak. It tells the story of Wu Hai (Da Peng) a widowed father who needs money to cover his son’s medical expenses. His friends convince him into fooling a livestreaming celebrity named “Foxy Fairy” (Liu) into falling in love with him. The plan is to kill her for her life insurance but the deception unravels when Wu finds himself developing real feelings for his intended victim.

Reviews of the film suggested that the story wasn’t as creative as the way its producers tried to promote it. “Similar to Dying to Survive, My Dear Liar is a tragedy told like a comedy. But what sets the two apart is that My Dear Liar is just not funny. Even when it reaches the climax, it doesn’t have much momentum. Overall, it is more like a love story than a reality satire. So even though the use of Chongqing dialect [the city where the movie is set] makes it very authentic, it just isn’t satisfying enough for audiences to prompt strong word of mouth,” explained Chief Entertainment Officer, a showbiz blog.

“The film isn’t a satire like Crazy Stone. Nor does it have the madness of Crazy Aliens. There are some great lines but the story itself is weak,” another critic complained on film and TV review site Douban. “Even though its intent is to depict reality, in key moments it lacks the courage to do that. It just feels that it lacks meaning.”

In fact, comedies haven’t been faring as well at the box office in China this year as dramas such as Wandering Earth. “Along with the decline in the number of comedies, the weak market sentiment suggests that the profitability of comedy has come down drastically, while drama films have ushered in a golden age,” Chief Entertainment Officer claimed.

In the meantime, industry observers reckoned that selling more movie vouchers on livestreaming platforms could become a more widely used marketing tactic. That said, even if you have the likes of Viya on side to boost sales, if the reviews for the film are tepid and the plot fails to excite audiences, the streaming technique is only going to deliver a short term boost.

“Using ‘high traffic stars’ to sell tickets is just a gimmick; its impact is quite limited. For a movie to do well at the box office, the quality of the film itself must be excellent,” warned Yiyu Guancha, another entertainment blog.

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