Hello, Mrs. Money (李茶的姑妈, Wu Yuhan, 2018)

Hello Mrs Money posterComedy 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, chá de Gūseems 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)

Wrath of Silence (暴裂无声, Xin Yukun, 2017)

wrath of silence posterNature red in tooth and claw – life in the arid Northlands of modern China is surprisingly bloody in Xin Yukun’s The Coffin in the Mountain followup, Wrath of Silence (暴裂无声, Bào Liè Wúshēng). The film’s Chinese release has, apparently, been indefinitely delayed for unclear reasons but it’s easy to see what might have given the censors occasion for pause in this tale of missing children, corrupt businessmen, and the relentless lusty greed of the new middle classes. A voiceless everyman forced away from his family by a series of unfortunate events, returns to look for his missing son but finds only a malevolent darkness invading the corners of his once peaceful rural mountain town.

In the winter of 2004, a small boy watches his sheep whilst building a small rock tower and drinking from his Ultraman flask. A short while later, his dad, Baomin (Song Yang), is pulled away from a fistfight at the bottom of a coal mine by a phone call from his wife informing him that their son has gone missing. Baomin drops everything and goes home but he’s still persona non grata in the small mountain village after stabbing the local chef in the eye with a lamb bone during a fight over Baomin’s refusal to sign over his land to developers hoping to open a coal mine.

Baomin’s path crosses with that of two other men, gangster-like mining magnate Chang (Jiang Wu) who has recently been “acquitted” of running illegal operations, and Chang’s lawyer, Xu (Yuan Wenkang), a conflicted single parent. Baomin and Xu are at opposite ends of China’s recently born class system – one educated, successful, and inhabiting the new pristine cities, the other literally rendered voiceless by an act of violence, poor, and living an antiquated rural life in a desert wasteland. Chang exists in the no man’s land between them as an example of the new elite – his life is one of Westernised elegance in his smart study and wood panelled drawing room with its deer heads on the walls. Yet it’s not business acumen which underpins his success but thuggery and a thorough disrespect for conventional morality.

There is a double irony in Baomin’s life in that his original objection to the coal mine has sent him straight into one. Owing vast compensation to the chef whose eye he ruined as well as needing money to pay for his sickly wife’s medical treatment, Baomin has little choice but to leave his farm and travel to a distant city where he can earn the money he needs to pay for his various responsibilities. Not only are the coal mines ripping up the landscape, they’re destroying families firstly through forced absences and secondarily through disease born of industrial pollution.

This veniality is all too plain in Chang’s ostentatious display of needless slaughter as he sits at a large dining table entirely covered in plates of raw meat ready to be sizzled in Chang’s favourite hot pots while a finely tuned slicer runs in the background churning out an endless supply of repurposed flesh. Chang’s overwhelming need for consumption is less about hunger than conquest as his hunting hobby proves but the trophies on his walls are as fake as the hairpieces which cover his receding hairline. The force which drives him is not so much need as vanity, fear, and insecurity. Desperate to be hunter and not hunted, he has abandoned all morality and will stop at nothing to ensure his place at the table is secure.

Baomin will stop at nothing until he finds his son. The film’s title, ironically enough, includes a slight pun in its first two characters which are pronounced “Bao” and “Lie” (the name of Baomin’s son) but mean “violence” and “spilt” while the characters of Baomin’s name (保民) mean protect and citizenry. Baomin is a violent man. According to his wife he was always fond of a fight even before rendering himself mute, but it has to be said that violence is, in his voiceless state, his most efficient method of communication. Flashing pictures everywhere he goes, Baomin chases visions of his son, haunted by small boys in Ultraman masks, fighting monsters far more real than the tokusatsu hero’s usual foes.

Fable-like in execution, the final revelations are heavily foreshadowed though dual meanings are plentiful as in a small boy’s innocent assumption of a classic Ultraman pose which looks eerily like something else to those with a guilty conscience, planting the seed of doubt as to whether it really was quite that innocent after all. Xin shoots with Lynchian surrealism as darkness seems to creep idly into the frame and then hover there, threatening something terrible, like the manifestation of willingly unseen truths. The rapid pace of social change has brought with it a loss of morality that endangers the foundation of society itself, sacrificing the young on the altar of greed while the state turns a blind eye to systemic corruption and cowards save their own skins rather than ease the suffering of others. Filled with a quiet rage mediated through melancholy poetry, Wrath of Silence takes a long, hard look into that creeping darkness but finds the darkness looking back with accusing eyes.


Screened at BFI London Film Festival 2017.

Original trailer (dialogue free, no subtitles)