Comedy theatre company Mahua Funage have been dominating the lucrative National Day box office for the past few years with a series of late September hits beginning with Goodbye Mr Loser back in 2015 and running to last year’s run away success Never Say Die. This year’s offering, Hello, Mrs. Money (李茶的姑妈, Lǐchá de Gūmā) seems set to continue the trend with another hilarious farce loosely inspired by Charley’s Aunt which, ironically enough, hits modern day capitalism right where it hurts through the form of a crowd pleasing rom-com.
Opening with a lengthy musical number which turns out to be a rehearsal for a welcome celebration for the titular auntie, “Miss Monica” (Celina Jade), the action takes place on a romantic island on which rich kid Richard (Song Yang) plans to propose to his reluctant girlfriend, Lulu, who is the daughter of a wealthy businessman, Andy Wong, who has talked her into dating Richard because the family business is failing. Also at the celebration is Lulu’s sister, Lili, who is unhappily married to Jerry (Allen Ai) who has brought his dad, Liang, along because their family business is also failing and he keeps trying to kill himself. In order to save his dad’s life, Jerry has convinced Liang his best shot lies in seducing Monica and becoming a wealthy husband. Monica, however, will not be coming – she wants to see whether Richard and Lulu really want to get married or are just putting on a show for her money, which presents a serious problem for Richard and Jerry.
Meanwhile, Huang (Huang Cailun), the lowly assistant charged with setting all of this up, decides that if Monica won’t be using the luxury villa he took the trouble of furnishing for her, he might as well make use of it himself. As Huang has a naturally small frame, he is accidentally mistaken for a sleeping Monica after passing out drunk in her bathrobe which gives Richard and Jerry and idea. Huang finds himself having to play the part of a wealthy woman but discovers that it’s not quite all as easy as he assumed it would be, especially when the “real” Monica also turns up but decides to go along with the ruse by posing as his “personal housekeeper”.
Monica largely remains on the sidelines, a passive observer to the chaos all around her as just about everyone else becomes obsessed with the idea of helping themselves to a part of her money. This seems to be a phenomenon she’s well familiar with which is why she decided not to go the island in the first place, but finds the act of watching someone pretend to be her and experience a gentle erasure of identity in being reduced to a giant walking wallet fascinating if also perhaps surprising and occasionally hilarious. Both Liang and Wong, a pair of failed middle-aged men, are determined to make themselves kings by becoming Mr. Monica, willing to undergo any and all kinds of humiliation as long as they get the cash. In a story Wong is fond of telling, he once made a speech in college in which he offered the audience a $20 bill only to throw it to the floor and crush it with his heel in an act intended to humiliate by proving that still they wanted the money. His loathsome life lesson eventually gets fed back to him by a revolutionary “Monica” but it proves a difficult one to overturn as evidenced by the ironic rejection of her act of insurrection which sees her chased by a mob of zombified, money crazed men who all somehow think they’re better than Wong and Liang for being exactly the same.
To begin with, Huang is no different – he loved helping himself to Monica’s villa with its fancy cigars and well stocked bar. Consistently humiliating himself by scaling the garden wall to swap identities, it’s all Huang can do to hold on to his job as he becomes consumed by ambition and determined to manipulate Jerry into getting him a promotion to the executive class. Only latterly does he begin to wake up, realising just what his pointless quest has cost him. It’s a move which can’t help but endear him to the “real” Monica who remains surprised by his essential goodness even if he began to lose his way for a time.
The message is clear – the older generation who might praise the economic reforms which have allowed them to become wealthy and powerful are also corrupt, selfish, and immoral perpetuating a system of diminishing returns in which money is the only thing that matters. The central irony is that Monica is really rich, and so when you lose you also win and it’s difficult (or perhaps easy) to claim that money doesn’t matter when you have a lot of it. Nevertheless Huang’s increasingly frantic scheming, the frustrated romances, and conflicting motivations of the family members each contribute to a fast moving farce in which the money is really just a MacGuffin which forces an eventual reconsideration of the follies of greed, providing a (mild) course correction towards a less avaricious future.
Hello, Mrs. Money is currently on limited release in cinemas across the UK.
Original trailer (no subtitles)