Review: ‘The Last Frenzy,’ starring Jia Bing, Xiaoshenyang, Yu Yang, Dong ‘Gem’ Baoshi and Tan Zhuo

May 25, 2024

by Carla Hay

Dong “Gem” Baoshi, Jia Bing, Yu Yang and Xiaoshenyang in “The Last Frenzy” (Photo courtesy of Tiger Pictures Entertainment)

“The Last Frenzy”

Directed by Rina Wu

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed cities in China, the comedy/drama film “The Last Frenzy” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A terminally ill man, who has been diagnosed with brain cancer and has been told he has only a few days to live, contacts his three best friends from his childhood so they can live out their wildest dreams. 

Culture Audience: “The Last Frenzy” will appeal primarily to people are fans of the movie’s headliners and movies about friendships and fulfilling fantasies.

Xiaoshenyang, Jia Bing, Yu Yang and Dong “Gem” Baoshi in “The Last Frenzy” (Photo courtesy of Tiger Pictures Entertainment)

“The Last Frenzy” is a little too rushed and trite at the end of the movie. However, this comedy/drama succeeds overall at maintaining viewer interest in a story about a dying man having a twist-filled reunion with three friends from his childhood. It’s a movie that has a good balance of wacky amusement and heartfelt sentimentality.

Written and directed by Rina Wu, “The Last Frenzy” takes place in unnamed cities in China in the early 2020s, but has some flashbacks to the early 1990s. The movie’s central character is Jia Youwei (played by Jia Bing), a divorced bachelor in his mid-40s who lives alone in small condominium apartment. Youwei lives very frugally and is such a “tightwad,” he seeks out the lowest prices on the items that would just cost the equivalent of less than one yuan. Youwei also doesn’t own a car, because he doesn’t want to deal with any car expenses, so he gets around by riding a bicycle.

Youwei will soon have more important things to worry about than trying to live as frugally as possible. After a visit to a doctor (played by Zhou Dayong) to get a MRI scan, the doctor tells Youwei some very bad news: Youwei has a brain tumor and only has 10 days to live. A distraught Youwe goes to his favorite casual restaurant, which is owned and operated by a friendly elderly man named Uncle Niu (played by Li Qi), and tells Uncle Niu this devastating news.

Youwei asks Uncle Niu for advice because Uncle Niu is also a bachelor who lives alone. Uncle Niu tells Youwei that if Uncle Niu had to deal with the same diagnosis, he would spend his last days alive by partying as much as possible with his friends. It’s advice that Youwei takes immediately.

First, Youwei sells his apartment. He also withdraws all of his money that he had saved in a bank. He then takes all the cash (about ¥ 1 million, which is about $140,625 in U.S. dollars in early 2020s money) and puts it in a duffel bag.

Youwei then contacts the three best friends he had when they were in their mid-teens together in the same group home. He tells them about his terminal illness and the diagnosis that he only has less than two weeks to live. Youwei says he wants to spend all of his money partying with them and fulfiling all of their fantasies.

Flashbacks to the four friends’ teenage years show that they were a tight-knit group that vowed to always treat each other like brothers. They called themselves the Workshop Four and each had different roles in their friendship, based on their personalities. These roles linger even when they are reunited 30 years later in adulthood.

Youwei had the role of a protective “older brother,” especially to “younger brother” Xu Dali (played by Yu Yang), who is the shyest and most insecure one in the group. Dali, who is a bachelor with no kids, works as a security guard in a shopping mall, and he has fantasies of becoming a professional boxer. Dali feels self-conscious of this thin body and doesn’t want people to think he’s a wimp.

As a teenager, outspoken Sha Baihu (played by Xiaoshenyang) dreamed of being a martial arts hero. Baihu is now a married father of a teenager son and a teenage daughter and has a wife who is a workaholic. Baihu often feels like a stranger in his own home because his wife and children don’t really pay attention to him.

Don Jiafeng (played by Dong Baoshi, also known as rapper Gem) had dreams of becoming a race car driver. Now, he is married and has a strained relationship with his son, who’s about 10 or 11 years old. Jiafeng’s son admires a rapper named Danko (played Liu Jiayu) and says that he wishes Jiafeng could be more like Danko. Jiafeng wants to impress his son, so he secretly tries to learn how to write and perform rap music.

Younger actors portray the four pals in these flashbacks. Zhang Baiqiao (also known as Zhang Baigui) portrays young Jia Youwei. Wei Lei has the role of young Dong Jianfeng. Li Zongheng is young Sha Baihu.

A flashback shows that when these four pals were teenagers, Youwei was blamed for betraying the Workshop Four. It was a misunderstanding but one the main reasons why the four friends eventually drifted apart. Youwei still feels some guilt over this estrangement, but he’s determined to make up for lost time. His plan is to have all of his money spent before he dies.

The four friends go on a spending spree with Youwei’s money. Among the things they do with the money is rent a Rolls Royce for Jiafeng to drive; stay at luxury hotel; gamble with large sums of cash; buy huge quantities of high-priced, imported liquor; play video games; and shoot guns at a firing range. Their indulgences sometimes get very over-the-top, such as when they hire about 12 waiters to guzzle much of the alcohol that was bought.

A reunion movie like this usually has some type of romance with a “lost love.” In “The Last Frenzy,” the “love who got away” is Wang Xiaoqian (played by Tan Zuo), who was Youwei’s crush when he was in high school. After 30 years of not seeing each other, Youwei and Xiaoqian unexpectedly encounter each other when Youwei and his pals check into a hotel where Xiaoqian works as a maid.

It’s a somewhat awkward reunion because Xiaoqian did not have romantic feelings for Youwei in high school. And she’s still not really attracted to him, but he still has a little bit of a crush on her. Xiaoqian tells Youwei that she’s a widow. She was married to a man named Zhang Minju, who was a bully at their school when they were teenagers. Youwei expresses surprise and disappointment that Xiaoqian married a guy who was Youwei’s nemesis in school.

A lot of sappy movies would then have a storyline about Youwei being able to win over Xiaoqian in a romance. But “The Last Frenzy” isn’t completely formulaic in this way. Youwei tells Xiaoqian about his terminal ilness. Xiaoqian is up front in telling Youwei that she is not interested in dating him because she doesn’t see the point of getting involved with him if he’s not expected to live for much longer. It’s a brutally honest reaction but it’s also realistic.

Youwei finds out that Xiaoqian is beng harassed by a thug named Brother Kun because her dead husband owed Brother Kun some money, and Brother Kun expects Xiaoqian to pay this debt. Xiaoqian doesn’t have the money and refuses Youwei’s offer to give her the money. There’s some slapstick comedy involving Youwei and his friends dealing with Brother Kun and his goons.

After the four friends go on a spending spree and do some luxury traveling, they go back home, and Youwei has another doctor’s appointment. The movie’s story then shifts dramatically after this doctor’s appointment, as Youwei faces a new crisis. The rest of “The Last Frenzy” is about how Youwei handles this change of events.

“The Last Frenzy” can be a very zippy comedy, but it also has dramatic themes about regrets and friendships. Now in their 40s, the four pals have to come to terms that aspects of their lives are not what they thought they would turn out to be. All four pals feels lonely, neglected or misunderstood in some way in their personal lives. The movie has made all four pals think about the time they might have left to live and what they really want to make their priorities.

One of the main reasons why “The Last Frenzy” works so well is the cast members have believable chemistry with each other. Their comedic timing works for the zanier moments, while the more serious moments have the right amount of emotional authenticity. Some of the plot is stretched thin with repetitiveness. And even though the last third of “The Last Frenzy” looks like an “only in a movie” fantasy, the movie’s four friends will have earned enough goodwill, viewers will be rooting for them until the very end.

Tiger Pictures International released “The Last Frenzy” in U.S. cinemas on May 17, 2024. The movie was released in China on May 1, 2024.

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