Review: ‘Nothing Can’t Be Undone by a HotPot,’ starring Yu Qian, Ailei Yu, Yang Mi, Li Jiu Xiao and Tian Yu

May 11, 2023

by Carla Hay

Yu Qian in “Nothing Can’t Be Undone by a Hotpot” (Photo courtesy of China Lion Film Distribution)

“Nothing Can’t Be Undone by a HotPot”

Directed by Ding Sheng

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in China, the comedy film “Nothing Can’t Be Undone by a HotPot” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Four mahjong players decide to rob a corrupt government official and find more trouble than they anticipated. 

Culture Audience: “Nothing Can’t Be Undone by a HotPot” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and wacky crime capers full of plot holes and irritating characters.

Tian Yu in “Nothing Can’t Be Undone by a HotPot” (Photo courtesy of China Lion Film Distribution)

“Nothing Can’t Be Undone by a HotPot” actually becomes “undone” fairly early on in the movie when it becomes obvious that this is a story that is jumping from one messy plot hole to the next. This crime comedy about four mahjong players who get caught up in theft and kidnapping has too many gimmicky distractions. Manic editing, bizarre sound effects, and constant shouting from the movie’s characters add up to very little substance.

Directed by Ding Sheng, “Nothing Can’t Be Undone by a HotPot” was co-written by Ding, Hang Wang and Xiaonan Xiu. The movie takes place in an unnamed city in China at a small venue called the Nine Cakes Theater, which offers unusual entertainment: Customers can play mahjong while watching a stage play.

Jiu Bing (played by Yu Qian) is the elderly owner of the Nine Cakes Theater, where he lives with his wife, who does the cooking for the theater. Bing is a mahjong enthusiast. It’s one of the few bright spots in his life because his livelihood is in jeopardy: The neighborhood where the Nine Cakes Theater is located is about to be demolished for a new property development.

The government director in charge of this deal is Fu Yu (played by Tian Yu), who took bribes from business owners with the promise to stop this demolishment. However, It was all a lie from Director Fu. He kept all of the bribes, which were paid in cash. Bing lost about ¥200,000 (which is a little more than $28,000 in U.S. dollars in 2024) in this bribery scam.

Bing has connected with three other mahjong enthusiasts online. In one of the last nights that he expects the Nine Cakes Theater to be open, he has invited these three other mahjong enthusiasts to play mahjong with him in the theater’s back storage room. It will be the first time that all four of them will be meeting each other in person.

The four mahjong players don’t know each other’s real names. When they meet in person, they think up code names for each other. Bing gives himself the code name Nine Cakes. Fa Cai (played by Ailei Yu) is a gruff ex-convict in his 30s who gives himself the code name Fortune. Yao Ji (played by Yang Mi) is a seemingly mild-mannered and shy woman in her 20s who gives herself the code name Chicken. Qi Wan (played by Li Jiu Xiao) is a restless delivery guy in his 20s who gives himself the code name Seventy Thousand.

The four mahjong players start talking about their lives. Bing reveals how Director Fu stole his money and says he wants to get his money back. Bing has assumed that Director Fu hasn’t spent the money, in order to avoid suspicion, and probably has the money stashed somewhere near Director Fu.

It just so happens that Bing recently found out through a plumber friend who did some work in Director Fu’s home that Director Fu has a hidden compartment in his bathroom. Ex-convict Cai says he’s good at picking locks, so he says they should break into Director Fu’s home, find the cash, and steal it. Bing insists he only wants to get the ¥200,000 that was stolen from him, and if they find more cash, the other three players can do what they want with it.

Faster than you can say “ridiculous and sloppy segue,” somehow Cai, Ji and Wan are able to sneak into Drector Fu’s home, find the cash in the bathroom, and leave without getting caught. The movie never explains how they knew no one would be home. As already revealed in the movie’s trailer, this motley crew ends up finding a lot more than money in Director Fu’s hidden stash of cash in a suitcase.

They bring the suitcase full of cash back to the theater storage room. But there’s another suitcase from Director Fu’s home that ends up in the storage room and yields an even bigger surprise: the body of Director Fu. But (as already revealed in the trailer), he’s not dead but unconscious. The four mahjong players decide to hold him captive until they figure out what to do next, which involves a lot of yelling and arguing with manipulative Director Fu and each other.

As they are panicking and getting to fights in the storage room, a play is taking place on stage. A running joke in the movie is an actor from the play (who’s in elaborate costumes and masks) keeps interrupting the shenanigans that happen in this storage room. As the four mahjong players get deeper into some crime problems, they try to hide their misdeeds from the actor who keeps wanting to see what’s going on in the storage room.

“Nothing Can’t Be Undone by a HotPot” seems like a “make things up as you go along” movie. It actually doesn’t come as much of a surprise that all four of these strangers have a unique connection to Director Fu besides this robbery and kidnapping. The “reveals” are all very contrived and never convincing. The acting performances in this movie can best be described as “shrill” and “obnoxious”—as is the movie’s musical score that is more likely to cause annoyance than build suspense. The cadence of the movie is deliberately off-kilter in unappealing ways.

“Nothing Can’t Be Undone by a HotPot” gets its title because it’s something that Wan/Seventy Thousand says a few times in the movie. During this long-winded ordeal in the storage room, a hotpot of food (with lingering closeups of the food) is always cooking nearby. Even if you haven’t seen the trailer, you can easily predict what happens when a pot of hot food is in a room with quarreling people. “Nothing Can’t Be Undone by a HotPot” might have been better as a short film, but it still wouldn’t erase the movie’s problems of having a flimsy plot with hollow characters.

China Lion Film Distribution released “Nothing Can’t Be Undone by a HotPot” in select U.S. cinemas on May 10, 2024. The movie was released in China on May 1, 2024.

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