It’s a body-switch comedy. You know what you’re getting into
“For the longest time, I have been wasting my life. But I never would’ve thought that I’d be given a chance to be reborn.”
I’ve never been a huge fan of these kinds of movies. It’s not that the films in the genre are bad in any sense, but in the thirty years since Big or whenever the original Freaky Friday came out, there really hasn’t been much innovation. Goodbye Mr Loser is a perfect example of this.
The film centres around the titular character, called Xia Luo (Shen Teng), an amateur musician and all-round loser. At the start of the film, he crashes the wedding of his old high school crush Qiu Ya (Wang Zhi) and declares his love for her. He is followed by his wife, Ma Dongmei (Ma Li), who shames him for all his wrongs. Going into a rage in the bathroom, he passes out and wakes up in his teenage body, in the 90s, with his memories of the future intact.
Initially thinking this is a dream, he acts out like he always wishes he could – meaning he beats up his teacher and forcefully makes out with Qiu Ya – and when it becomes apparent that this isn’t a dream, he uses this as an opportunity to reinvent himself. This means stealing the yet-to-be recorded songs of the future, becoming a superstar himself over the next two decades, all the while getting the girl of his dreams and rebuffing the advances of his once-wife. (And then he realises how much of a jerk he is and that he really loved Dongmei all along.)
Goodbye Mr Loser is a fairly run-of-the-mill story, the beats of which you see coming a mile away, but this is rather a problem for the larger body-swap genre than it is for this particular movie. To berate it for being predictable is hardly fair, when you consider how all of them are pretty much the same plot. It’s been often compared to Peggy Sue Got Married, which is a fair comparison. They even take the same take-credit-for-a-song-I-didn’t-write idea. So, knowing full well where this film is going to go, how does it hold up on its own?
It’s OK. It’s enjoyable. There are some pretty funny moments, admittedly. The cast was notable for being comprised almost entirely out of comedians, none of which had done much movie acting before, but their naturally funny personalities come out and where a joke might fall flat, their built-in humour usually acts as a cushion. Chances are you won’t be laughing out loud during the entire thing, but it’ll squeeze a good few chuckles out of you here and there.
My biggest problem is one I have with a lot of similar comedies that involve less-than-genius protagonists: they’re simply not all that likeable for a good chunk of the film. Zach Galifianakis is famous for this and Xia Luo is not unlike one of those characters. At first, it seems like Ma Dongmei is overbearing and he’s right for escaping her but then it becomes evident quite quickly that it’s him who’s the obnoxious one. Maybe he’s not as bad as half of the Galifianakis roles and is endearing enough for you to still root for him; he does have his moments throughout, although almost all of them happen right at the end, so it’s something of a mixed bag.
Shen Teng seems like a nice guy in real life, and he has an affability that translates well on-screen, but his character’s actions can be mean, or petty or just plain rapey at times. You start to feel sorry for Ma Dongmei, who seems to have genuine feelings for this guy, although it’s kind of hard to see why. At least the other characters aren’t so annoying. There’s a big supporting cast, who are all good fun to watch. Some of Luo’s friends from school make welcome presences, in particular one big lug, who always lightens the mood with his wide, dimwitted smile. Ma Li as Ma Dongmei is a delight and though she can appear one-note at times, this is really an issue with everyone. Withe the material she’s given, she makes her character the standout performance of the show.
Goodbye Mr Loser is by no means a bad film. It’s just a bit forgetful. The plot’s been done before – and better – and the cast try hard, sometimes going into mugging territory, but can never really escape the single dimensions their characters have been placed in. I get the feeling this is a movie that would score a lot better with local audiences: there are sprinkles of Chinese pop culture throughout, including a few celebrities from that time who make some appearances. A lot of the jokes would hit a Chinese audience more, as well. For the uninitiated outsider, like myself, well, it was alright. If I woke up in my own body two hours before seeing this movie, I probably wouldn’t try to change the future just to avoid watching it.
Verdict: Goodbye Mr Loser perfectly sums up all the pros and all the problems of the body-switch genre. Make of that what you will.
The Asian Cinemas Critic’s Patented Ratings System:
Overall entertainment: 6.5/10
Violence: Very little
Sex: None? I don’t even remember
That Bruce Lee parody in the poster: I have no idea where in the film this is
Random AIDS storyline: Right the fuck out of nowhere
Laughs: A few
Goodbye Mr Loser (2015)
Also known as: 夏洛特烦恼 (Xià Luò Tè Fánnǎo)
Directors: Yan Fei, Peng Da-mo
Writers: Yan Fei, Peng Da-mo
Shen Teng – Xia Luo
Ma Li – Ma Dongmei
Zhi Wang – Qiu Ya
Ai Lun – Dachun
Yin Zheng – Yuan Hua
Lee Li-Chun – Headmaster
Ping Li – Xia Luo’s Mother
Chang Yuan – Meng Te
Yang Song – Zhang Yang