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Foolish Plans
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by Jay Seaver

"Decent Chinese screwball comedy."
3 stars

"Screwball" is probably the hardest thing to pull off in the movies, and given that the phrase "foolish plans" is probably part of any definition of the genre, it's not surprising that filmmaker Jiang Tao is on the right track with his latest movie. Making the peculiar look effortless can be a tough gig, though, and it's often easy to see how Jiang and his movie are working - the film has a charm that can't be denied, even if it sometimes doesn't quite get the pacing right.

It's got three friends and roommates working as propmen on a movie - schemer Sung Da-hu (Wang Zijian), husky but good-natured Zheng Qiu (Xiu Rui), and charming but somewhat awkward Wu Chenfeng (Wang Ning). Even before producer "President" JIn is threatening to shut the production down, the three are fired for a number of screwups, and "Feng" is considering going back to his home village, where local girl Duoduo (Cya Liu Ya-se) would be willing to marry him. There's a hitch, though - Feng is already married, to Jin's last mistress Sheng Jiaoyang ("Angel" Wang Ou), a paper marriage to legitimize the baby she was carrying. Since Jin is a real heel - he sent out thugs when he noticed Zheng flirting with latest mistress Lisa (Crystal Chen Yang) - Da-hu suggests they shake him down for their back pay while Feng seeks a divorce. The trouble is, Feng is pretty taken when he meets Jiaoyang for a second time - oh, and Jin soon drops dead of a heart attack, so both the cops and his underworld partners are taking a good look at the people trying to pry what they consider their money loose from him.

There are bits of Foolish Plans that hint at a film trying a bit too hard, like the way that Feng, Zheng, and Da-hu apparently live in an apartment in the middle of a scrapyard that provides equipment they might need for building props or whatever other devices they might need later. There are also times when it struggles to find something for all three of the roommates to do - there are a few scenes toward the start about Da-hu dealing with a guy who makes restorations for museums that will only vaguely tie in with the rest of the stories, if that (this part has a fair number of on-screen graphics that don't receive even the sometimes-rough subtitling the rest of the film gets), and Zheng gets sidelined for a while with what seem like merely obligatory check-ins.

For the most part, though, it stays amiably rather than affectedly quirky. Jiang may be rushing into things to start, but once Feng and Jiaoyang meet each other for a second time, something clicks - aside from how it's surprising for being a character gleefully going off-script rather than being caught up by circumstance, it counters the cynical scheming of Da-hu with something downright charming, at least initially. It lets him create an upbeat mood that plays well against jokes about crime and possible murder, and if they don't quite come at a rapid-fire pace, they come quick enough, climaxing with a slapstick finale that, yes, uses a bunch of visual effects, but has almost everything running in the right silly direction.

The cast is fun, too. Wang Ning and Wang Ou are technically the leads as Feng and Jiaoyang, goofiness and time are apportioned among the ensemble well, and everybody gets to have some fun. Wangs Ning and Ou do have great chemistry, though, from her dismissive ignorance of him in the opening scene to cheery sparks to working at potential cross-purposes, really selling that, despite sort of being presented as the least eccentric, they're kind of weird. Xiu Rui and Wang Zijian would be comic relief characters in other movies, but just part of the gang here, and both (Xiu especially) are good at being funny on the edges while being important to the story. Xya Liu Ya-se doesn't appear as more than a photograph until halfway through, but she fits in well, even if Duoduo does bring a little drama.

Bringing in drama is kind of an issue here - at about 112 minutes long, the film is a bit flabby for a broad comedy, and never more so when it follows something really goofy with something dramatic (there's a big section I'd like to rip out of the last act, because a movie doesn't need to have both "funny" and "serious" resolutions). There are also a couple of weird tone things that may say more about the viewer than the movie, most notably that while I can easily deal with threats of murder as a way to move a comedy forward, a woman coming back from her lover with a bruised face can seem a bit much.

"Foolish Plans" is not a perfect screwball comedy; there might not actually be such a thing in today's naturalistic, less buttoned-down movie world. It's pretty funny with a couple of very funny moments, not a bad matinee.

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originally posted: 07/13/16 06:52:13
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Directed by
  Tao Jiang

Written by
  Tao Jiang

  Ning Wang
  Rui Xiu
  Zijian Wang
  Ou Wang
  Yase Liu
  Crystal Chen

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