By Julia Pierrepont III
LOS ANGLESE, Nov. 4 (Xinhua) -- To Hollywood's surprise, Chinese films are increasingly enjoying box office success. The Chinese comedy "Never Say Die" has brought in an impressive 326 million U.S. dollars worldwide to date, marking another triumph after "Wolf Warriors II" piled up 877 million U.S. dollars box office.
"Never Say Die" opened worldwide at the end of September and Variety reported that "during its Saturday-Sunday opening weekend, 'Never Say Die' took in 46 million U.S. dollars in its first two days in China."
According to TheNumbers.com, the overwhelming majority of its worldwide grosses were racked up in China's domestic box office, giving it the record-breaking national cum it needed to move it up to the "#1 Highest Grossing Comedy in a Single Market."
It beat out such U.S. studio comedy blockbusters as Ben Stiller/Robert DeNiro's dysfunctional family comedy, "Meet the Fockers" (279 million U.S. dollars), Bradley Cooper/Zach Galifianakis' bad boy "Hangover" (277 million U.S. dollars), Ben Stiller's fun fantasy, "Night at the Museum" (250 million U.S. dollars) and Jackie Chan's rib-tickler, "Kung Fu Yoga" (250 million U.S. dollars).
The film's global tally has also earned its entry into the rarified ranks of the "Top Ten All Time International Box Office for Comedy Movies."
That's quite an impressive feat for a plucky little underdog sports comedy that only cost 10 million U.S. dollars to make.
"Never Say Die" is a Chinese, body-swapping comedy about a male mixed-martial arts boxer and a high-profile female journalist who mysteriously switch bodies after an electrically-charged kiss.
Some of its runaway success can be attributed to an avid, pre-existing fanbase in China, developed when it began as a popular Mahua FunAge stageplay of the same name. Years of instantaneous audience feedback helped hone its robust humor to maximum effect.
Mahua FunAge, a leading theatrical troupe in China, known for its quirky humor and taking on timely issues, has staged over 1200 performances of 15 plays and 2 musicals throughout China since 2003.
The play was adapted and directed for the screen by the successful writer-director comedy team, Yang Song and Chiyu Zhang, who've managed to create an adroit transition from stage to screen while displaying a firm grasp of the cinematic medium.
Comedy doesn't usually travel well. What serves up guffaws for one culture can fall on deaf ears for another. Chinese comedies are usually bewildering ciphers to American audiences and vice versa.
But Song and Zhang's layered situational-based humor and laugh-out-loud slapstick comedy gives it a universal appeal that breaks those barriers.
American producer Alan Noel Vega told Xinhua, "I've been a fan of Chinese movies for over 15 years and am pleased to see how far they've come in that time. It's great to see even their comedies finding a wider international appeal."
What could easily have been yet another cliched, male-female, body-switching genre spoof turns out to be a hilarious gender-bender that transcends the genre to deliver a touching message on the power of love, loyalty and redemption.
The movie kicks off with the type of underhanded maligning of a man's character that has captivated Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice fans for over two hundred years.
The film follows Ai Disheng, a mixed-martial arts fighter accused of taking a nosedive for a hefty cash pay-off during a heated championship match.
His career-ending scandal, along with a damning video that catches him on camera opening a duffle bag chock-full of payola, was exposed by Ma Xiao, his reporter nemesis, a famous, arrogant, ace journalist whose history of hard-hitting exposes has left her believing she can never get it wrong. Naturally, they loathe each other.
Things take a bizarre spin when he and she collide by a swimming pool, accidentally lock lips, and fall into the water just as lightning strikes.
Naturally - as fantasies go - their consciousness mystically switches bodies, leaving his in her body and hers in his. What follows is a parade of hilarious gender-crossed situations and misunderstandings that tug at your heart-strings while they tickle your funny bone.
But the film goes beyond mere slapstick and pratfalls. There are few stories in life as satisfying as watching someone who's been wrongfully vilified regain their good reputation while the bad-guy who framed him gets his comeuppance.
And if you can roll in a "feel good" love story and an underdog sports triumph too, chances are you'll hit a gland slam and take home the winning trophy.
"Never Say Die" did that in spades.
The directors reunited Chinese comedic stars, Ai Lun and Ma Li, the leads from Mahua's previous blockbuster smash, "Goodbye Mr. Loser" (226 million U.S. dollars in 2016), whose experience in comedic theater made them perfectly-suited for these roles.
Filmgoer, Yu Hong, told Xinhua, "the film's success owns much to the actors' skill. They were professional and impressive and their body language really fit the story's comedy."
Both leads were able to walk a delicate line between projecting "too little" and "too much." Many comedies fail when the film or the actors try too hard and lose that fresh, spontaneous sense of fun or whimsy.
But Allen Ai manages the difficult task of playing both a manly, though somewhat feckless, professional fighter and a slightly-hysterical girly-man without being too swishy or blatantly insulting.
Li Ma is equally adept at playing both a powerful, sophisticated female executive and a crotch-scratching, breast-ogling, beer-swilling guy.
Allen and Li's on-screen chemistry builds nicely to an unsurprising, but still-gratifying romantic conclusion.
With this scrappy film still duking it out in theaters with the majors, it's already proved it's got the stuff of champions.