Review: ‘Give Me Five’ (2022), starring Chang Yuan, Ma Li and Wei Xiang

December 26, 2022

by Carla Hay

Wei Xiang, Chang Yuan and Ma Li in “Give Me Five” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Give Me Five” (2022)

Directed by Zhang Luan

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in China in 2021, the 1980s and 1991, the sci-fi comedy/drama film “Give Me Five” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After his 60-year-old father ends up in a hospital and is experiencing memory loss, a 30-year-old man unexpectedly finds out that he can travel back in time to the 1980s, where he meets his parents before they got married.

Culture Audience: “Give Me Five” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching amusing and occasionally poignant stories about time travel and family relationships.

Jia Bing and Chang Yuan in “Give Me Five” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Give Me Five” is a convoluted but overall entertaining comedy/drama that will get inevitable comparisons to “Back to the Future,” because of the plot about time travel that could affect the courtship of a man’s parents. The movie is good, but not great. The main difference between the two movies’ plots is that the protagonist in “Back to the Future” is aided by an eccentric scientist, whereas there is no such scientist character in “Give Me Five.”

Directed by Zhang Luan and written by Dong Tianyi, “Give Me Five” begins in 2021, with the introduction of the movie’s protoganst: Wu Xiao, also known as Xioawu (played by Chang Yuan), is a 30-year-old business entrepreneur in an unnamed city in China. After graduating from college, Xiao founded an e-sports training company that is struggling to be a financial success. Xiao has a volatile relationship with his widowed father Wu Hongqi (played by Wei Xiang), who is 60 years old and a retired engineer. Hongqi calls Xiao “useless” for hanging out at Internet cafes all day.

Xiao’s mother died in childbirth. Hongqi, who is a retired engineer, raised Xiao (who is an only child) and never remarried. Xiao says in a voiceover early in the movie: “He might have brought me up, but he’s never liked me. It’s as though we are arch-enemies.” Making things more complicated, Hongqi has been experiencing short-term memory loss, and he sometimes calls Xiao his “brother.”

Early in the movie, there’s another example of how Hongqi is forgetful. On Xiao’s birthday, Honqi asks Xiao to make a wish when Xiao blows out candles on his birthday cake. Xiao asks Honqi for ¥5,000 because Xiao wants to propose to his girlfriend Huahua, and he needs the money for the wedding. Honqi gives Xiao the money but then immediately forgets why. Xiao gets angry and yells at Honqi that if he and Huahua get married, they will be burdened with taking care of Honqi.

Tragedy strikes when Honqi accidentally falls into a river and ends up in a coma, in a hospital. Xiao is worried about his father. But because of their strained relationship, Xiao also complains to his comatose father that they can’t afford the hospital bill.

Honqi’s former co-worker named Qin Shiyu (played by Huang Yuntong), who is a female friend of his, visits Honqi in the hospital. She tells Xiao that when Honqi was younger, he liked Rabindranath Tagore’s poems, which Shiyu reads to Honqi in the hospital. This admiration for Rabindranath Tagore poetry becomes a key point in the movie’s plot.

Back at his family home, Xiao finds a ring, his mother’s diary and a bank account book showing a balance of ¥5,000. He opens the diary to find an entry dated May 30, 1986. And when Xiao, he finds himself transported back to that date. He ends up meeting his parents before they got married.

The rest of the movie shows Xiao traveling back and forth in time from the 1980s to 1991. He can control when he goes back in time, but he doesn’t know when he will be pulled back to the present day. During his time traveling, Xiao finds out that Honqi and Shiyu used to date each other when they were factory co-workers in the 1980s. At the time, Xiao’s mother Lau Chunli (played by Ma Li), also known as Daliu, was a technician at the same factory.

Because his parents don’t know that Xiao is their future son, Xiao presents himself as a new employee. Xiao ends up befriending Honqi, who is nerdy and very insecure about his relationship with Shiyu, who is ambitious and glamorous. Honqi thinks that Shiyu is out of his league and is afraid that she will break up with him.

Daliu is socially awkward and a little bit of a misfit at the factory. She has a crush on Honqi, but he’s so caught up in his relationship with Shiyu that he doesn’t immediately notice how Daliu feels about him. Meanwhile, a former co-worker named Qiang (played by Jia Bing), who was fired from the factory for stealing coal, reappears as a shady businessman with enough money to buy the factory. Qiang wants to make this purchase, but he if he buys the factory, then 2,000 employees will be laid off.

Once the time traveling part of “Give Me Five” happens, most of the movie is about how Xiao handles the love triangle between Honqi, Daliu and Shiyu. Should he interfere? And if he does, could it possibly prevent himself from being born? This time-travel experience also makes Xiao see his father in a different way. Xiao discovers that his father was a lot less confident in his 20s, compared to how Xiao perceived his father to be more self-assured when Honqi was that age.

“Give Me Five” has some deliberately goofy scenarios, and the film derives a lot of comedy from hairstyles, fashion and music from the 1980s. Some of the jokes are a little repetitive but nothing in this movie is so substandard that it’s a turnoff. The performances are engaging enough, with Chang showing talent in carrying most of the movie with his skills in comedy and drama. Even if people who’ve seen these types of movies can easily predict what will happen at the end, “Give Me Five” is sentimental without being too mawkish in its message about appreciating loved ones while they’re still alive and not misjudging them.

Well Go USA released “Give Me Five” in select U.S. cinemas on September 23, 2022.

Review: ‘Moon Man’ (2022), starring Shen Teng and Ma Li

September 9, 2022

by Carla Hay

King Kong Roo and Shen Teng in “Moon Man” (Photo courtesy of Tiger Pictures Entertainment)

“Moon Man” (2022)

Directed by Zhang Chiyu

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the year 2033, and briefly in 2043, on the moon and on Earth, the sci-fi/comedy/drama film “Moon Man” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A maintenance worker, who’s part of an astronaut crew on the moon, accidentally gets left behind on the moon in an emergency departure, and he becomes a symbol of hope after Earth experiences an apocalypse. 

Culture Audience: “Moon Man” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of sci-fi movies and movies about human survival that blend goofy comedy with poignant drama.

Ma Li in “Moon Man” (Photo courtesy of Tiger Pictures Entertainment)

Although the comedy in “Moon Man” sometimes gets a little too silly and repetitive for its own good, this sci-fi flick has enough memorable characters, intriguing plot developments, and heartfelt dramatic moments to be entertaining and emotionally stirring. “Moon Man” is not the type of movie that will win major awards for technical achievements or acting. It’s a crowd-pleasing film that takes some familiar elements of “stranded survivor” stories and delivers a unique spin that people of many different generations can enjoy.

Written and directed by Zhang Chiyu, “Moon Man” is based on South Korean illustrator Cho Seok’s comic book series “Moon You.” The movie alternates between showing what happens on the moon and what happens on Earth. “Moon Man” begins in 2033, by showing an astronaut team from China that’s stationed on the moon for an exploration project called UNMS Project.

There are 300 people on this team. Their mission is to explore the moon and look into possibilities that the moon could be inhabited by human beings, in case there’s an apocalypse on Earth. A massive meteorite has been detected in the universe, and scientist believe that this meteorite is headed in Earth’s direction. The team’s temporary moon home is named UNMS Base.

One of the people on the team is Dugu Yue (played by Shen Teng), who is considered to be one of the lowest-ranking team members because he’s a maintenance worker. Dugu Yue is a “regular guy” who is often ignored by the higher-ranked members of the team. He has a secret crush on the team’s no-nonsense leader, Ma Lanxing (played by Ma Li), a female astronaut who doesn’t think much of Dugu Yue in the beginning of the story.

One day, all of the UNMS Project spaceships are summoned to return to Earth for an emergency: the detected meteorite is heading to Earth much earlier than expected. In the chaos that ensues, Dugu Yue is out driving in his moon buggy, when all the spaceships leave, and he is accidentally left behind on the now-abandoned UNMS Base. Dugu Yue feels hurt and rejected. He tries to communicate with the command station on Earth, but the communication equipment doesn’t work. (He finds out why, later in the movie.)

Dugu Yue can see Earth from where he is on the moon. His hope of being rescued gets crushed when sees that shortly after his colleagues have landed on Earth, the meteorite has hit Earth, and large portions of Earth have exploded. Dugu Yue has no idea how many people survived, but it’s obvious that Earth is now experiencing an apocalypse.

It turns out that most of Dugu Yue’s colleagues did survive. They are holed up in an astronaut compound, where they can see and hear Dugu Yue on video monitors, but he can’t see and hear them. Ma Lanxing is one of the survivors.

Dugu Yue has plenty of food and water to last for several months, but he has to find a way to survive on his own until he can go back to Earth. It’s later revealed in the movie that when he was living on Earth, Dugu Yue was a loner who had no friends, loved ones or other family members for most of his childhood into his adulthood. His lonely life explains why no one except his colleagues are the only ones who know or care that he’s stranded on the moon.

Left to his own devices, Dugu Yue initially tries to have as much fun by himself. He does some moon-crater “surfing” on a snowboard, but he takes more than a few tumbles. He tries to hack into his colleagues’ computer equipment that was left behind. And he creates a life-sized cardboard replica of a human body and places a photo of Ma Lanxing’s face on this replica.

This makeshift replica of Ma Lanxing becomes Dugu Yue’s “companion.” He eats meals with it propped up in a nearby chair, and he talks to it like as if it were really Ma Lanxing. During one of these meals, Ma Lanxing confessions to the replica that he’s had a longtime crush on Ma Lanxing. And then he takes some ketchup, puts it on Ma Lanxing’s replica face, and licks the ketchup off of her face.

Meanwhile, Ma Lanxing and her colleagues in the video monitor room are watching these private moments, unbeknownst to Dugu Yue. Most of the colleagues are amused, but Ma Lanxing is not. She’s mortified and embarrassed.

During this apocalypse, many of Earth’s survivors are experiencing despair and depression. Ma Lanxing comes up with an idea that she thinks can bring hope to Earth’s remaining people: She wants to use Dugu Yue as an example of someone who is a hero survivor on the moon.

Ma Lanxing wants to livestream Dugu Yue’s activities to the people on Earth. She also concocts the idea to have a voice actor(played by Huang Zitao) play the role of Dugu Yue, in order to fabricate things that she wants people to think Dugu Yue is saying. It’s a plan that’s so absurd, it works best in an intentional comedy film such as “Moon Man.”

Ma Lanxing reports to Sun Guangyang (played by Li Chengru), the U.N. Shield Contact chairman, who goes along with the idea, with some hesitation and concern that this hoax might backfire. Another colleague who’s on board for this plan is mild-mannered and compassionate Wei Lasi (played by Lamu Yangzi, also known as Jackie Li) and her brash and disrespectful co-worker Zhu Pite (played by Yuan Chang), who is one of the first people to laugh when Dugu Yue does something to embarrass himself.

Meanwhile, Dugu Yue finds out that he’s not alone on UNMS Base. A very special kangaroo has been left behind. This kangaroo is highly intelligent and has very human-like mannerisms. (Fortunately, “Moon Man” does not make the kangaroo an animal that can talk in a human language. We have more than enough movies about talking animals.) Predictably, Dugu Yue and this feisty kangaroo, which he calls King Kong Roo, end up clashing with each other in many comedic moments.

“Moon Man” has several scenes involving slapstick comedy between Dugu Yue and King Kong Roo. The movie’s visual effects look convincing for the space exploration parts of the movie. The visual effects for the King Kong Roo aren’t entirely convincing all the time and can be distracting.

The movie goes in some directions that are more amusing that others. The relationship between Dugu Yue and King Kong Rue takes up a lot of the “Moon Man” story, but viewers will also notice how this “odd couple” also affects the people who are watching on Earth. Ma Lanxing starts off thinking that Dugu Yue is a buffoon, but over time, she begins to respect Dugu Yue.

Shen Teng anchors “Moon Man” with a performance showing his impressive skills at physical comedy, as well as emotional gravitas. The rest of the cast members also do well in their roles. However, Shen’s versatile performance as Dugu Yue will get the biggest reactions from viewers. His lead performance is also the most memorable thing about “Moon Man.”

Doing a comedy/drama movie about an apocalypse is a tricky balance that most films cannot achieve. “Moon Man” has some cringeworthy flaws, but the movie mostly succeeds in mixing comedy/drama tones without making the story too ridiculous or too serious. It’s ultimately a movie that has as much to say about the pitfalls of elevating false idols as it does about how people can find true heroes within themselves.

Tiger Pictures Entertainment released “Moon Man” in select U.S. cinemas on August 2, 2022. The movie was released in China on July 29, 2022.

Review: ‘My Country, My Parents,’ starring Wu Jing, Leo Wu, Zhang Ziyi, Yuan Jinhui, Xu Zheng, Han Haolin, Shen Teng and Hong Lie

November 14, 2021

by Carla Hay

Hong Lie and Shen Teng (center) in “My Country, My Parents” (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)

“My Country, My Parents”

Directed by Wu Jing, Zhang Ziyi, Xu Zheng and Shen Teng

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in China in 1942 to 1945; 1969; 1978; and the 21st century, the dramatic four-part anthology film “My Country, My Parents” (also titled “My Country, My Family”) features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: The movie tells four separate stories of struggles and conflicts over parental issues.

Culture Audience: “My Country, My Parents” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies about Chinese culture and about universal issues over parents or guardians who try to do the best they can for their children.

Zhang Ziyi and Yuan Jinhui in “My Country, My Parents” (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)

The dramatic anthology film “My Country, My Parents” is an uneven but still-interesting film with enough entertaining and emotionally moving moments that outweigh the moments when the movie falters with dull predictability. It’s a movie that is told in four parts (or four short films strung together), each from a different director who stars in each of the four stories. The four stories are “Windriders,” “Poem,” “Ad Man” and “Go Youth.” “My Country, My Parents” (which is also titled “My Country, My Family”) is the follow-up to 2019’s seven-part anthology film “My People, My Country” and 2020’s five-part anthology film “My People, My Homeland.” All of these films were created to put an emphasis on Chinese patriotism through the lens of stories about humanity and personal relationships.

“Windriders” (directed by Wu Jing)

“Windriders” is the first story in “My Country, My Parents.” Taking place from 1942 to 1945, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, it’s exactly what you might expect from a war movie. Wu Jing stars as Ma Renxing, a widower and a commander of the Jizhong Cavalry Regiment. He often clashes with his impulsive and equally stubborn son Ma Chengfeng (played by Leo Wu), who argues with his father, especially about who will get to ride a stallion called Big Boss.

Battle scenes on horseback get a lot of screen time. Although this story throws in some tragedy and sentimentality, “Windriders” puts more priority on the war action. Most viewers won’t find much to emotionally connect with or relate to in this story, unless you’ve had the experience of going into war combat with a parent or child. The filmmaking for this story isn’t bad, but it’s ultimately forgettable.

“Poem” (directed by Zhang Ziyi)

“Poem” takes almost the opposite approach of “Windriders,” by pouring on so many emotions and so much angst, it almost becomes a mini-melodrama. Zhang Ziyi stars as Yu Kaiying, a gunpowder sculptor in 1969. She has gone through two major tragedies within a 10-year period: The biological father of her two children died while serving in the military. He passed away when the kids were too young to remember him. (Du Jiang plays the father in a flashback.) And now, the children’s stepfather Shi Ruhong (played by Huang Xuan), the only father the kids have ever known, has died, also while serving in the military.

In 1969, her two children are a son nicknamed Four Eyes (played by Yuan Jinhui), who is about 7 or 8 years old, and an unnamed daughter (played by Ren Sinuo), who’s about 4 or 5 years old. Yu Kaiying is so devastated by Shi Ruhong’s death that she doesn’t know how to tell her kids, And so, she lies to them by saying that Shi Ruhong is still away from home because of military duties.

However, Four Eyes knows something is wrong because several other children in the neighborhood have missing fathers who disappered during military duty and are presumed dead. He begins to suspect that the only father he’s ever known has met the same fate, and he starts to ask questions. This leads to Yu Kaiying reminiscing about her courtship with Shi Ruhong, who liked to write poems to her.

Everything in “Poem” is bathed in warm-tinted cinematography (in dark gold and tawny), as if to give the movie a romantic glow. However, there are some harsh realities in the story that might be hard for some people to watch. Yu Kaiying is far from being an ideal parent. One day, Four Eyes has a tantrum and yells at her that she’s not a real father because his father used to spank him. She loses her temper and starts spanking Four Eyes until he’s in a sobbing heap. His younger sister witnesses this abuse and starts crying too.

Yu Kaiying shows remorse to her children for losing control of her emotions in such a negative way. The kids forgive her, but some viewers might lose any sympathy for Yu Kaiying during this domestic violence scene. It’s a jarring contrast to all the lovey-dovey courtship scenes in “Poem.” The story concludes by showing Yu Kaiying’s children as adults and what they ended up doing with their lives.

“Ad Man” (directed by Xu Zheng)

“Ad Man,” which takes place in 1978, is a welcome relief from the death and destruction of the previous two stories. The movie is a lighthearted story starring Xu Zheng as Zhao Pingyang, a struggling entrepreneur who decides to film his first TV commercial for his business of selling medicinal wine. He has bought so much wine, that it’s cluttered up his modest home that he shares with his wife Han Jingya (played by Song Jia) and their son Zhao Xiaodong (played by Han Haolin), who’s about 10 or 11 years old.

Zhao Xiaodong is so embarrassed by his father that he lies about what his father does for a living. The movie opens with Zhao Xiaodong giving a presentation in front of other students in a classroom where they have to talk about their fathers’ jobs. Zhao Xiaodong says with false pride that his father has been an architect, furniture maker, and he became the top sales manager at a pharmaceutical company. He also brags that his father predicted that phones without cords would be invented.

In the middle of this presentation, a boy stands up in class and says that Zhao Xiaodong is lying about everything. The boy announces that Zhao Pingyang is really a financially broke “loser” who’s heavily in debt and who used to sell duck eggs in front of the school. Zhao Xiaodong is so angry by what this boy says that he throws a book at him and gets in trouble for it. However, it’s true that Zhao Pingyang has serious financial problems and that he used to sell duck eggs in front of the school.

Zhao Pingyang’s wife Han Jingya is so upset with him for putting the family in a financial mess that she’s on the verge of divorcing him. Zhao Xiaodong makes it clear to his father that he’s also ashamed of him. Partially out of desperation and partially out of inspiration, Zhao Pingyang decides the best way to jumpstart his failing business is to film a TV commercial, which was still rare for small businesses in China in 1978.

Because he’s new to TV advertising, many mistakes are made, resulting in some comedic scenes. Zhao Pingyang ends up hiring a film crew of eccentric people. And eventually, he decides to star in the commercial himself. Is the commercial a success? Does he eventually get the respect of his wife and son? This is a feel-good story, so you can predict the rest.

“Go Youth” (directed by Shen Teng)

The best story in the movie is saved for last. “Go Youth” is a dramedy set in 2020, when a talking male robot (played by Shen Teng) from outer space has been sent to Earth and crash-lands in a field. He gets dismembered in the fall, but he puts himself back together. The robot eventually finds its way to the home of a boy named Xiao Xiao (played by Hong Lie), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Xiao Xiao is the only child of his widow mother Ma Daiyu (played by Ma Li), who spends a lot of time away from home, presumably because she has to work.

Xiao Xiao finds that he can control the robot by telling it what to do. The robot is named Xing Yihao, and he tells Xiao Xiao that he’s from the year 2050. “I’m fresh from the production line,” the robot says to Xiao Xiao. “They brought me here.” (Who are “they”? That question is answered at the end of the film in a delightful plot twist.)

The robot couldn’t have come at a better time in Xiao Xiao’s life. Xiao Xiao is a lonely child who’s being bullied at school by other kids. He can’t really talk about it with his mother, whom Xiao Xiao describes as “a nag.” Because Xing Yihao looks and acts like a real human being, Xiao Xiao pretends that the robot is his new father.

Xiao Xiao’s deceased father was a scientist/researcher whose specialty was artificial intelligence. Xiao Xiao also has an interest in computer-based science, so he easily bonds with the robot. At first, he treats Xing Yihao like a toy, but then he grows fond of the robot and starts treating it like a father figure/friend. A poignant moment happens when Xiao Xiao teaches the robot how to smile.

Xiao Xiao’s mother Ma Daiyu seems to give Xiao Xiao a lot of freedom to do things without adult supervision. She’s not around to see a lot of the shenanigans that Xiao Xiao gets up to with his new companion. Xiao Xiao and Xing Yihao spend a lot of time outdoors, where Xiao Xiao teaches Xing Yihao some things about how to live on Earth.

The robot also happens to have superhuman strength, which comes in handy when Xiao Xiao wants to fend off the school bullies, or to make a big impression in an upcoming athletic competition where fathers and sons pair up in teams. It’s during this athletic competition where Xiao Xiao sees that he and Xing Yih o,make a great team. It gives Xiao Xiao a lot of self-confidence, as well as respect from many of his classmates.

Xiao Xiao gets so emotionally attached to the robot, there’s a cute scene where Xiao Xiao introduces Xing Yihao to his mother as a blind date for her when she’s startled to see the robot for the first time. Xing Yihao is dressed in a spacesuit outfit when Ma Daiyu first sees the robot, so she thinks he’s a man who’s into cosplaying. No romance happens between the mother and the robot, but Xiao Xiao attempting to get his mother to like the robot is a sign that he wants Xing Yihao in his life for the long haul.

However, things don’t go as smoothly as Xiao Xiao would like. The robot keeps talking about having to go back to its place of origin. This kind of talk makes Xiao Xiao sad and confused, so he tries to ignore this robot’s wish to go back to its original home. Eventually, this issue can no longer be ignored, but how everything is resolved is not what a lot of viewers might expect.

“Go Youth” is the best story in this anthology because of how it’s heartwarming without being overly sentimental. It has the right blend of drama and comedy. And most of all, the dynamics between Shen Teng and Hong Lie are very entertaining to watch. Hong Lie is by far the most talented child actor in this anthology. He’s believable in every single scene. And although Shen Teng plays a robot, he brings glimmers of human empathy in the robot to make it an engaging character.

If there’s any noticeable flaw in all of this movie’s anthology stories, it’s in the sexist way that children who are girls are sidelined and not given much to do or say. In every story of this anthology, a male child is the only or main focus of a parent’s attention. Considering that Chinese culture is very patriarchal, it’s not too much of a surprise that male children are given more importance than female children in these stories. However, it’s commendable that a female director got to tell her story in this anthology. It might be gender tokenism to have only one female director out of four directors, but being part of the storytelling is better than being completely excluded.

CMC Pictures released “My Country, My Parents” in select U.S. cinemas on October 8, 2021. The movie was released in China on September 30, 2021.

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