Review: ‘Pegasus 2,’ starring Shen Teng, Fan Chengcheng, Yin Zheng, Zhang Benyu and Sun Yizhou

March 4, 2024

by Carla Hay

Shen Teng in “Pegasus 2” (Photo courtesy of Niu Vision Media)

“Pegasus 2”

Directed by Han Han

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in China, the action comedy film “Pegasus 2” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After a long hiatus out of the public eye, a former race car champion tries to make a comeback at the same rally where he experienced a horrific car accident. 

Culture Audience: “Pegasus 2” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners, the 2019 “Pegasus” movie and crowd-pleasing films about car racing.

Zhang Benyu, Shen Teng and Yin Zheng in “Pegasus 2” (Photo courtesy of Niu Vision Media)

“Pegasus 2” is utterly predictable, but this action comedy about a race car driver making a comeback is still a fun thrill ride to watch. The cast members’ amusing performances and winning chemistry with each other elevate the movie. This sequel also provides satisfying closure to 2019’s “Pegasus” movie, which ended on a cliffhanger that was open to interpretation.

Written and directed by Han Han (who also wrote and directed “Pegasus”), “Pegasus 2” takes place in unnamed cities in China. In “Pegasus” (mild spoiler alert), champion race-car driver Zhang Chi (played by Shen Teng) won the Bayanbulak Rally, but his car malfunctioned and fell off of a cliff. His fate was unknown by the end of the movie.

The beginning of “Pegasus 2” describes in a caption what happened to Chi: He survived the cliff fall, but his car did not, because it became a total wreck. Chi’s victory that was shown at the end of the first “Pegasus” movie was deemed invalid. Chi has “retired” from racing and has opened a driving school with his two closest friends: outspoken Sun Yuqiang (played by Yin Zheng) and mild-mannered Ji Xing (played by Zhang Benyu), who were both Chi’s racing colleagues in his glory days.

The three pals are trying to find a new work space for their company when someone who is a huge fan of Chi contacts Chi with an offer to do something different. Xin Di (played by Jia Bing) is the owner and manager of Laotoule Automobile Factory. Di wants Chi to make a racing comeback and says that Bayanbulak Rally will be Chi’s sponsor. This is the last year that Bayanbulak Rally will take place. Di is confident that Chi can win the race. (“Pegasus 2” is a very male-centric movie, since there are no women in the principal cast.)

There are some obstacles, of course. First, Chi is very reluctant to go back to being a professional racer. Second, Chi says that if took this offer, he would need about ¥6 million (which is about $833,449 in U.S. dollars in 2024), but Di says he only has ¥4 million, which is about $555,633 in U.S. dollars in 2024. Third, the corporate sponsor Lighttime has won the Bayanbulak Rally for the past two years and can easily outspend Laotoule Automobile Factory in getting the best resources and driver training.

Di asks Chi to reconsider Chi’s decision to not race in the Bayanbulak Rally. In the meantime, a star driver has emerged at Chi’s driving school. He is a young man named Li Xiaohai (played by Fan Chengcheng), who works as a test driver at the school. Xiaohai has never been a professional racer. Di’s nerdy son Liu Xiande (played by Sun Yizhou, also known as Sean Sun) has been paying Chi’s school to be a driver apprentice.

The driving school is about to evicted from its work space due to non-payment of rent. It should come as no surprise that Chi changes his mind about entering the Bayanbulak Rally. He makes the decision to temporarily close the driving school, in order to train for the race. Yuqiang is his co-driver. As a backup duo for the Bayanbulak Rally, Xiaohai will be the lead driver, and Xiande will be a co-driver for another car sponsored by Laotoule Automobile Factory. These drivers have only 100 days to train for the Bayanbulak Rally.

You know where all of this is going, of course. The are more obstacles and challenges in ths journey, including the hero team running out of money, experiencing car malfunctions, and driving during a snowstorm during the race. The racing scenes have adrenaline-packed energy and are filmed from some eye-catching angles. And even if some of the stunt moves are obvious visual effects, “Pegasus 2” makes everything entertaining to watch.

On and off the racing circuit, the characters of “Pegasus 2” are engaging, with every co-star showing good comedic timing. Because “Pegasus 2” doesn’t take itself too seriously, some of the ridiculousness in the movie is easer to take because of the movie’s comedy. “Pegasus 2” shows what can be expected in a story about someone who has to overcome self-doubt in order to make a comeback. It’s the type of inspirational movie that is a familiar as comfort food and is just as enjoyable.

Niu Vision Media released “Pegasus 2” in select U.S. cinemas on February 9, 2024. The movie was released in China on February 10, 2024.

Review: ‘Johnny Keep Walking!,’ starring Dong Chengpeng, White-K and Zhuang Dafei

January 27, 2023

by Carla Hay

Dong Chengpeng and White-K in “Johnny Keep Walking!” (Photo courtesy of Tiger Pictures Entertainment)

“Johnny Keep Walking!”

Directed by Dong Runnian

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in China, mostly in 2017, the comedy film “Johnny Keep Walking!” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Due to an identity mixup, a factory worker for a large corporation accidentally gets promoted into an executive manager position, while the staff relations manager who made this mistake tries to cover it up.

Culture Audience: “Johnny Keep Walking!” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching workplace satires that try to do too much with a flimsy and thin plot.

Zhuang Dafei, Dong Chengpeng and White-K in “Johnny Keep Walking!” (Photo courtesy of Tiger Pictures Entertainment)

“Johnny Keep Walking!” starts off looking like a screwball satire of how corporate managers have such little regard for employees, they treat employees as interchangeable and disposable. But then, the movie bizarrely turns into a somewhat preachy comedy lecture about how corporate workers can find gratitude and happiness on the job if they find a way to charm their irresponsible or callous managers. The intended sharp parody of corporate incompetence is weakened by too much sentimental corniness, especially near the end of the movie. It’s overstuffed with too many unnecessary characters. It’s a one-joke film stretched to irritating limits.

Directed by Dong Runnian (who co-wrote the “Johnny Keep Walking!” screemplay with with Luojia Ying), “Johnny Keep Walking!” begins in 1998. A China-based corporation called Zonghe Group (which makes equipment parts, such as bolts and studs) is having its annual gala, which includes a talent show for employees. One of the company’s main production facilities is the Zonghe Standard Component Factory, which is in a different city from Zonghe’s corporate headquarters. The movie doesn’t mention the names of the cities where the factory and corporate headquarters are located.

At this company gala in 1998, a factory employee named Hu Jianlin (played by as Chengpeng Dong also known as Da Peng) is shown swinging from a wire, as if he’s some kind of comedic acrobat. The performance is well-received, until it ends disastrously when Jianlin crashes to the ground. Viewers soon find out that despite this mishap, Jianlin loves to perform at the company gala’s talent show every year. He has a happy-go-lucky personality that can sometimes be considered clownish. Zonghe Group is led by a typical ruthless mogul named Chairman Hu (played by Ouyang Fenqiang), who cares more about profits than people.

The movie then fast-forwards to 2017. Jianlin, a bachelor with no children, is still working in an assembly-line job at Zonghe Standard Component Factory. His title is senior fitter. He is looking forward to performing as a singer at the annual company gala. In order to do so, he has to put in an application every year. Not everyone will be chosen to perform, but Jianlin has been chosen every year, so he’s not worried. Performing at the company gala has become a tradition for him that he expects to continue.

One day, Jianlin gets some shocking news: He’s been promoted to become a mid-level manager at Zonghe’s corporate headquarters, even though he has no managerial experience and no business education. This promotion means that he will have to leave all of his factory co-worker friends behind, but Jianlin is excited and curious about this new job opportunity. His co-worker friends at the factory seem to be happy for him, but they are confused over why Jianlin was given this promotion, since he previously showed no interest in being a corporate manager.

Meanwhile, someone who is not happy about this promotion is middle-aged Zhuang Zhengzhi (played by Wang Xun), a supply manager at Zonghe Standard Component Factory. Zhengzhi had applied for this promotion not just because he wants an elevated title and a higher income but also because he wants to move to the city where Zonghe is headquartered so his children can go to a better school. Zhengzhi is enraged that an unqualified Jianlin got the promotion instead

There’s a big reason why Zhengzhi was expecting this job promotion: Zhengzhi did unethical things for a middle man named Hou Chengsi (played by Yang Lei), who promised that in return for these illegal business practices, Zhengzhi would get the job promotion. When Zhenghzi tries to call Chengsi, he is dismayed to find out that Chengsi can’t be reached on his phone. Zhenghzi interprets Chengsi’s sudden inaccessibility as Chengsi deliberately avoiding him. However, later, Zhengzhi gets a strange phone call from Zonghe headquarters where someone asks him to sing over the phone as an audition.

At Zonghe’s corporate headquarters, an awestruck Jianlin is given an office tour. He is amazed that corporate managers have their own spa and don’t do as much work as he thought. During his first few days on the job, Jianlin meets several executives. They include director of human resoures Thomas (played by Mu Da), deputy director of human resources Peter (played by Sun Yizhou, also known as Sean Sun; deputy director of human resources Jeffrey; and deputy head of staff relations/company culture Ma Jie (played by White-K, also known as Bai Ke), who goes by the name Magic.

Magic has a one-on-one meeting with Jianlin and tells him that Jianlin’s income in his new job can be up to ¥360,000 a year, which is more than $50,000 in U.S. dollars. Jianlin has never made that much income before, and he doesn’t quite believe it. He asks Magic if he can record a video on Jianlin’s phone of Magic stating this salary for Jianlin, so he can have it has evidence. It’s one of many examples that the movie has to show how Jianlin is ignorant about corporate customs.

Magic also tells Jianlin that because Zonghe is an international company, all of the executives must choose an English-language first name to make it easier to communicate with English-speaking business collegaues. After some back-and-forth dialogue, they decide that Jianlin’s English-language name will be John, nicknamed Johnny.

Shortly after this meetng, Magic finds out he had made a huge mistake: He mixed up Jianlin’s talent show application with Zhengzhi’s promotion application. He decides to himself that he can cover up this mistake, as long as he prevents Jianlin/John from doing anything important. Most of the movie is a series of repetitive and wacky predicaments of Magic trying to keep his mistake a secret while Jianlin/John naïvely works his way up Zonghe’s corporate ladder and Zhengzhi plots his revenge.

All of that would be enough for one movie, but “Johnny Keep Walking!” crams in suplots about corporate downsizing and exploitation of temporary workers. Zonghe has about 60,000 employees and plans to lay off a great deal of them. Most of the employees who are let go are lower-level workers, while the high-ranking executives not only get to keep their own jobs, they often get bonuses or raises. When the layoffs start to happen, the remaining employees become unsettled and paranoid that they will be the next to lose their jobs.

Meanwhile, Jianlin/John gets to know a cynical Zonghe employee named Pan Yiran, also known as Penny (played by Zhuang Dafei, also known as Sabrina Zhuang), who works as some type of administrative assistant. She is part of the company’s outsourced group of workers who are considered temporary workers. Penny has been working for Zonghe for the past six years.

Penny has been promised a permanent job at Zonghe, but this permanent job hasn’t happened for her yet. She has become very bitter and impatient about this unfulfilled promise. Like many temporary workers, Penny can’t afford to quit. But she’s disgruntled and is rude to her supervisor, so she often gets reprimanded for her attitude.

“Johnny Keep Walking!” has a brisk, madcap tone to it for most of the movie, but then everything starts turning into hokey mush toward the end of the film. The subplot about the scheming of Zhengzhi and Chengsi is a muddled and far-fetched mess. The annual Zonghe talent show is another subplot that is an awkward part of the story. “Johnny Keep Walking!” fares best when it focuses on lampooning how high-ranking corporate executives are frequently insincere, out-of-touch, and ill-equipped to do their jobs, but all the subplots become distractions and flaws for the movie.

Unfortunately, with too many characters and jumbled subplots, “Johnny Keep Walking!” trips over its own ambition. It’s not a completely terrible film, and some parts succeed in being amusing. The cast members do adequate jobs in their performances. But the movie’s tonal shift at the end is ridiculously hokey. Instead of consistently poking fun at corporate culture, “Johnny Keep Walking” ends up praising corporate culture with a simple-minded conclusion.

Tiger Pictures Entertainment released “Johnny Keep Walking!” in select U.S. cinemas on January 18, 2024. The movie was released in China on December 30, 2023.

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