Mo is no Mo'

By Huang Hung
0 CommentsPrint E-mail China Daily, December 22, 2009
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The Mighty seemed to have fallen in December 2009. The release of Zhang "Yimo's" latest picture has caused a serious wave of Mo trashing on the Internet. As one netizen put it on Sina's twitter: "Mo is no Mo'."

I must say, it is fun to watch the mighty fall, and I have done my fair share of twittering on the subject as well. The truth is, no one wanted to say anything bad about him for 18 months; after all, he is the Chinese creative wunderkind who dazzled the world with the Olympic Opening Ceremony. The nation rallied behind him and he delivered, the show was amazing, and everyone - I mean just everyone - was terribly pleased.

So what went wrong with Mo's latest film? On the surface: Nothing. It should have been another crowd pleaser. The script is an adaptation of the Coen Brothers' 1984 film "Blood Simple," Mo and his producer paid good money for the rights of the re-make. This action alone should have pleased the more intellectual critics of the director; the fact that he did the right thing in terms of copyright, and picked a script by the Coen Brothers, definitely Hollywood's less commercial strand of creative power.

San Qiang (Three Shots) as the film is known, brings together a list of China's most celebrated comedians. To start with, there is Xiao Shenyang, the 2009 CCTV New Year Gala comedy sensation. It seems that all he has to do is opening his mouth, and we are already laughing. Why? Because he is so cheap, as one twitterer commented.

And then there is Xiao Shengyang's shifu (teacher), Zhao Benshan, a veteran comedian that Chinese TV audiences have loved for the past 20 years. As if that's not enough, Mo has thrown in Sun Honglei, China's leading man who also has an untainted record from both his TV and film work. And last, but certainly not least, there is Mo himself.

Great script, star-studded cast, the most renowned Chinese filmmaker of all times, and plenty of cash. Sounds like a recipe for a blockbuster. But instead, it turned out to be one of the most hated films of 2009. What happened?

The problem, as one critic has pointed out, is that a film is not the Olympic Opening Ceremony, nor is it the New Year Gala on CCTV. Trying to please everyone may be the task of massive telecasted events, but not the task of a film. Mo's problem is he tried too hard to please everyone. AGAIN. This time, unfortunately, he pleased no one. Coen Brothers fans, who are usually not Mo fans, probably hated how Mo simply massacred the original script and messed up the adaptation. TV Gala audiences went into the theater expecting their favorite comedians performing in a Mo film, and not repeating punch lines that are at least 1 year old.

As for fans of Sun, the leading man, for most of the film, his handsome head is covered with a helmet and he had no more than five lines and a couple of grunting sounds in the entire film.

And all those Mo fans, who love the imperial pomposity of Zhang Yimo films, will be sorely disappointed that their beloved emperors and warriors are replaced a bunch of small-time hoodlums who run a noodle shop in the middle of nowhere.

So, it's like the master chef with all the right ingredients spoils the soup by over-cooking it. No wonder people are wondering whether Zhang Yimo is too spent after the Olympic Ceremony. But great creative talents are known for making horrible mistakes; every director probably has at least one film whose every negative he would like to singe.

At the end of day, Mo is still Mo.

(The official spelling of the director is Zhang Yimou, but the Chinese press often calls him Old Mo. The Chinese title of his new movie is "Three Gunshots," but the English title is renamed "A Simple Noodle Story." This is an introductory column by Huang Hung, a high priestess on topics of arts, lifestyle and showbiz.)

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