By Raymond Zhou
Crazy Racer is the best comedy film ever produced by a mainland filmmaker.
Well, at least that's one man's opinion.
Ever since I saw a preview of Ning Hao's follow-up to his 2006 sleeper hit Crazy Stone and posted this brief comment in my blog, entertainment reporters across the country have been pestering me for a full-length review.
Surprisingly, I had little to add. Great comedy is like an extremely beautiful woman. You know you were struck, but you were unable to tell how.
"I can't repeat every joke and every gag to you," I said. "You'll have to see the movie for yourselves."
China, with the exception of Hong Kong, does not have a comedy tradition as a cinematic art. Yes, we have comedies, but it's not a serious genre.
Filmmakers throw in a few jokes as if they are leftovers from last night's banquet. They hardly conceal their sense of condescension. There's always the trace of a "solemn artist" making an attempt to lighten up.
Feng Xiaogang has been trying to push it into mainstream acceptance. He succeeded in making it a profitable business model, but did not really elevate the genre or its respectability. Most of his movies are protracted one-joke skits. And most of his jokes are only verbal.
Out of nowhere came Ning Hao, who does not seem to derive much from Chinese comedy. His influences for Crazy Stone included Guy Ritchie and other film noir works from the West.
And his repeat performance is even better. It's a big leap over his previous, much-acclaimed surprise hit.
Crazy Racer is so tightly woven that even without a single gag it would be enjoyable to watch.
And Ning has crammed so much funny material into it, I had the feeling at least a full-year's worth of comedy movies were compacted into one crazy package.
Beneath the chases and mistaken identity gags there is great attention to detail and pacing. Each setup is squeezed for comedic effect so that nothing is wasted, unlike most Chinese comedies where punchlines are a hit-and-miss affair and hearty laughs are few and far between.
Crazy Racer is not a film for analysis. It has to be experienced - hopefully in a theater with hundreds of others.
Even if you miss half the jokes, it's still funnier than most domestic competitors. I, for one, haven't laughed this hard since There's Something About Mary.
That proves what kind of filmmaker Ning Hao is. He treats comedy seriously, in the tradition of Moliere, Jim Carrey, and Stephen Chow. He sees it as an art to tickle your funny bones.
(China Daily January 8, 2009)