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 apartment in a condominium. 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, 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 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 s Rolls Royce for Jia feng 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 indulgence 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 acrush on her. Xiaoqian tells Youwei that she’s a widow. She was married to a man named Zhang Minju, who was 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 abaout his terminal ilness. Xiaoqian is up front in telling Youwei that she not interested in dating him because she doens’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.

Review: ‘One and Only’ (2023), starring Huang Bo and Wang Yibo

August 14, 2023

by Carla Hay

Wang Yibo in “One and Only” (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)

“One and Only” (2023)

Directed by Da Peng

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Hangzhou, China, in 2022, in comedy/drama film “One and Only” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with a few white people and one black person) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A talented street dancer is recruited as a stand-in on a high-ranking street dancing team that will be competing for a national championship, but he and the team’s coach have obstacles along the way, including a jealous and wealthy rival who threatens the team’s existence.

Culture Audience: “One and Only” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching modern dance movies that have great choreography and well-acted stories.

Huang Bo in “One and Only” (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)

“One and Only” is one of the best dance films of the year. The choreography and cinematography are dazzling. This comedy/drama about an underdog street dancer and his conflicted coach also has a compelling and heartfelt story told with skillful acting. The story’s overall plot is entirely predictable, but viewers are taken on a thoroughly entertaining ride along the way.

Directed by Da Peng (who co-wrote the “One and Only” screenplay with Siu Bao), “One and Only takes place primarily in Hangzhou, China, in 2022. Hangzhou is the hometown of Chen Shuo (played by Wang Yibo), a talented street dancer in his late teens or early 20s. Shuo is juggling three different jobs to help pay the bills for his family, which includes his widowed mother Du Li Sha (played by Liu Min Tao) and his mother’s brother (played by Yue Yunpeng), who all live in the same household. (The movie doesn’t say how Shuo’s father died. Shuo’s maternal uncle doesn’t have a first name in the movie and is only identified as Uncle Du in the end credits.)

Shuo works in the small, casual restaurant owned by his mother, who used to be a professional singer. He also has a job at a car wash. And in his spare time, Shuo does dance jobs on the street or at parties. For his dancing gigs, Shuo works with his uncle Xie (played by Xiaoshenyang), who is the brother of Shuo’s deceased father. Xie, who is very supportive of Shuo, also acts as a quasi-manager/agent to Shuo.

Shuo’s dream is to become a professional street dancer, just like Shuo’s father was. Shuo is in awe of E-Mark, the hottest street dance team in Hangzhou, and he goes to as many of E-Mark’s performances as possible. An early scene in the movie shows Shuo rushing from completing a street dancing gig that pays him ¥300 (which is about $41 in U.S. dollars in 2022) so that he can watch E-Mark compete in the finals of the Zhejiang Street Dance Competition. The winner will have a chance to go on to the National Street Dance Competition.

Winning the National Street Dance Competition has been an elusive goal for E-Mark and for E-Mark’s coach/team owner: the scruffy and dance-obsessed Ding Lei (played by Huang Bo), who is a former professional street dancer in his late 40s. It has always bothered Lei that he has never won a national championship as a solo dancer or as part of a group. During his heyday as a dancer, Lei had the unflattering nickname Eternal Runner-up. Lei wants to live out his dream of getting a national championship through E-Mark.

Shuo is thrilled to see E-Mark win the Zhejiang Street Dance Competition, against tough competition from another talented group called Dancing Machine. E-Mark’s star dancer is Kevin (played by Casper), who is rich and arrogant. Lei is in a difficult situation because Kevin has been paying the rent on E-Mark’s rehearsal space.

Kevin holds this financial power over Lei as an excuse for Kevin to act as if Lei needs Kevin, in order for E-Mark to survive At the Zhejiang Street Dance Competition, Kevin shows up very late and almost misses the time to dance with his team. Later, when Lei confronts Kevin about his tardiness, Kevin dismisses it and says that the team couldn’t have won without him. Kevin’s bad attitude is starting to really annoy Lei. Kevin and Lei get into arguments.

And to make matters worse, Lei finds out that Kevin has not paid the rent for the rehearsal space for the last three months. Lei is now stuck with this overdue bill that he has to pay in 30 days. After another argument, Kevin (or people he hired) remove all of E-Mark’s trophies out of the rehearsal space without asking permission. Kevin has a “yes man” business manager named Liu Hongliang (played by Zhang Zixian), who has a small role in the movie but it’s a comic relief role.

Viewers soon find out what Lei plans to do about the problems that Kevin has caused. One day, Shuo is doing a job where he is dressed up as a Power Ranger who breakdances at a children’s party. At the party, Xie and Shuo are approached by Lei, who somehow found out about Shuo’s talents. Lei asks Shuo if he is interested in being a stand-in for Kevin.

It’s essentally an internship, but it’s a paid internship: Lei says that Shuo will be paid ¥5,000 a month, which is about $686 a month in U.S. dollars in 2022. Shuo is ecstatic and eagerly accepts the job, even though Lei tells Shuo that there’s no guarantee that this internship will lead to Shuo getting a permanent place on the E-Mark team. This “internship” is really Lei’s way of seeing if Shuo can eventually replace Kevin.

“One and Only” isn’t just a “hey kids, let’s put on a dance show” movie. The story does a very good job of showing who the main characters are when they’re not immersed in dance rehearsals or dance competitions. Lei is a divorced bachelor with no children. His entire life revolves around E-Mark, but he’s going through financial struggles to keep the team afloat. He treats the members of E-Mark (except for the difficult Kevin) as if they were his own children.

Lei’s ex-wife Dan Dan (played by Qi Xi) occasionally appears to give “One and Only” viewers some glimpses into what Lei’s past life is like. Dan Dan dresses like a successful business person (although the movie never says what she does for a living), and she has not remarried. In a scene where Lei happens to see Dan Dan, he jokes about how he’s going to convince her that they will get back together again. Even though the movie never says why Lei and Dan Dan got divorced, this scene has some good acting that shows there was a lot of heartache in that relationship.

As for Shuo’s personal life, he’s a shy loner who is socially awkward when it comes to dating. He’s a dutiful and obedient son to his mother, who adores him, although she’s somewhat fearful of all the rejections that Shuo will experience as an entertainer. Her restaurant is quirky: It features celebrity wax statues made by Shuo’s maternal uncle. (The celebrity wax statues include Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Chan, Albert Einstein and Michael Jackson.)

There’s a scene in “One and Only” where Xie tells Shuo some family history that Shuo didn’t know about: Uncle Du dropped out of art school when he was younger to take care of his ailing father. After the father died, Uncle Du had a nervous breakdown. When Shuo finds out this information, Shuo feel compassion for Uncle Du, whom Shuo used to think of as just a weird uncle who was a failed artist. These are the types of details in “One and Only” that give meaningful character development to the story.

Shuo has a love interest: Li Mingzhu (played by Song Zu Er), who is a journalist intern at a local newspaper. Mingzhu and Shuo, who are about the same age, know each other casually because they were classmates in high school. Shuo has had a crush on her a while, but he’s very insecure about asking her out on a date. Mingzhu drops major hints that she wants Shuo to ask her out on a date, but he’s so inexperienced in dating, he doesn’t pick up on these clues right away.

When Shuo arrives at the E-Mark rehearsal space, he is welcomed immediately by an adorable girl named Tang Tang (played by Molly Han), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Tang Tang is the daughter of E-Mark’s only female dancer: Chilli (played by Fei, no last name), who is a single mother dating another E-Mark dancer named Dragon (played by George, no last name), who has an apt nickname because of Dragon’s fiery personality. Dragon has very strong opinions and doesn’t like the idea of E-Mark being a “sell-out” dance group that will do embarrassing things for money.

The other members of E-Mark have distinctive looks and memorable names, but not much is done in the movie to make their personalities stand out from each other. The actors portraying these E-Mark members are real-life street dancers playing versions of themselves with the same or similar names that they have for their characters in the movie. They are Patrick (played by Patrick), Luffy (played by Luffy Liao, also known as Liao Bo), Jr. Taco (played by Jr. Taco), Snakeman (played by Snakeman), Forest (played by Forest), Wukong (played by David Ye), Prohecy (played by Big Ason) and Sniper (played by Sniper).

Lei becomes desperate for money to pay off his debts. And he gets an offer from a dorky young businessman named Dong Er Lang (played by Jiang Long), who used to be a street dancer but who now sells a product line of “smart” trash cans called Daxi. Lang can best be described as an E-Mark fanatic/groupie. When Lang finds out that Lei needs money fast, Lang makes a sponsorship offer that becomes the first major turning point in Shuo’s affiliation with E-Mark.

“One and Only” doesn’t have any big surprises, but it’s interesting to see how the character dynamics play out in the movie. Kevin predictably becomes jealous of Shuo. Lei becomes torn between choosing to stick with Kevin for Kevin’s money and talent (even if Kevin’s huge, problematic ego is part of the package), or to take a bif risk on unknown, super-talented dancer Shuo, who is humble and likable but who doesn’t guarantee financial security for E-Mark.

In between these dilemmas, “One and Only” has a lot of great footage of dancing that incorporates many acrobatic and gymnastic elements. Through it all, Huang as Lei and Wang as Shuo give very convincing performances as two men from different generations who bond over dancing. It’s lovely to see how Huang helps build Shuo’s self-confidence, while Shuo inspires Lei to remember the enthusiastic energy that Lei used to have as a young man before financial concerns made Lei very jaded about the business. “One and Only” isn’t just a celebration of dance. It’s also a celebration of appreciating loyal family and friendships.

CMC Pictures released “One and Only” in select U.S. cinemas and in China on August 11, 2023.

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