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Beautiful Accident
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by Jay Seaver

"Funnier than most romantic comedies that start by killing their heroines."
3 stars

I'm a bit of two minds on "Beautiful Accident" - on the one hand, it's very easy to see this movie taking its premise of a career woman suddenly being placed in the position of a housewife for a week due to a filing mishap in the afterlife and getting entirely too cute with it, and when it ended, I found myself fairly pleased that it hadn't. The flip side of that, though, is that as the movie was playing out, it never quite seemed to manage the clever, weird, or really involving things it might have. It hits a lot of spots that mark a clear path but verges on making them a little too well-considered, and could use a bit of chaos.

The lawyer is Lee Yu Ran (Gwei Lun-mei), who demonstrates her cutthroat nature by intimidating the mother of a teenager who has been attacked her boyfriend. In her mid-thirties and never married, she's going to Germany to study in a few weeks, something that seems highly unlikely when she a truck smashes into her car. But, as Director Lee (Wang Jingchun) points out when she arrives in the "Terminal of Fate", she has arrived early, but so has someone else, who has moved on, so if Yu Ran could take her place for a week (they will update the "settings" for everyone else so as not to notice that Yu Ran still has her own name and face), she can get back to her own life. Of course, the folks at the Terminal didn't mention husband Zhang Tao (Kun Chen) or kids Xing Xing (Nana Ou-yang) and Tian Tian (William Wang Yuan-ye), and that nine-year-old Tian believes aliens have replaced his mother with a clone while she is on a trip to space.

Though the filmmakers leave some odd gaps when moving the plot along initially - most everything with the Terminal workers involves them withholding information from Yu Ran so that she'll seem foolish despite it being in their best interests for her to succeed - they prove pretty fair at using the look of the film to set tone quickly. The bits with Yu Ran's real life have a nice background detail like her martial-arts workout clothes being perfectly pressed for each obvious thing like her solitary dinner of rare steak and wine afterward. The afterlife is, of course, a Gilliam-esque bureaucracy, although not to pointless excess, and the life into which she is inserted is colorful but a bit faded. Director He Weiting and company are careful with their choices without ever pushing them so far that a viewer sees things as unreal.

The most important piece of the puzzle is Gwei Lun-mei. She doesn't get much of a chance to be at her best in the opening scenes, where her job is to be a callous lawyer stereotype and unbothered when someone calls her a callous lawyer stereotype in slightly different words. She does manage to quickly become funnier and more amiable as Yu Ran starts fitting in, aided a great deal by not being asked to flip a switch in her performance - Yu Ran becoming more domestic doesn't make her any less refined or shark-like, but simply directs those instincts. Being given a whole three-dimensional character to play at that point actually lets Gwei be funnier. She plays well enough opposite young actors Nana Ou-yang and William Wang to sell her transformation, although it takes a little longer to feel proper chemistry with Chen Kun.

Gwei handles this material well enough that it often seems like the movie should be a fair bit funnier. There are enjoyably goofy bits built around the Terminal workers and lots of things that seem like set-up for good jokes. The high-powered lawyer hiding in the bushes to avoid a gaggle of scary soccer moms at the bus stop, for instance, seems like it should lead to more things along that line, as does Tian's alien theory or Yu Ran's misadventures in housework; He and writers Ha Zichao & Hu Jialin tend to get one good chuckle out of something that could net a half-dozen. Of course, the flip side is that they probably did pretty well to back off on making things zany, considering that this is a story that opens with the main character dying in a slow-motion car crash, has a young mother die of a heart-attack off-screen, and then has rotten things happen to various kids in order to test Yu Ran's growth. Maybe you don't want to make the big jokes there.

The fact that the filmmakers are more aware of how such things can seem tone-deaf likely makes the finale a lot less squirm-inducing than this sort of fantasy often is, as well. It's not uncommon for this sort of movie to sprain an eyelid winking at the audience in the last act, or have its lessons be that the career woman's ambitions from the start were unimportant or invalid, and that He and company take pains to make what happens clear without over-explaining is appreciated nearly as much as the respect given Yu Ran. The end may be kind of muted, it's actually a lot better than I expected, and a more daring film might not have been this competent in making things fit.

That's kind of damning with faint praise, which the film doesn't deserve. It won't become any sort of classic, but it's sweet and has its share of funny moments. One can feel good coming out of it despite all the ways it could have gone wrong.

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originally posted: 06/06/17 04:03:24
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Directed by
  Weiting He

Written by
  Zichau Ha
  Jialin Hu

  Lun-mei Gwei
  Jingchun Wang
  Ouyang Nana
  William Wang
  Kun Chen

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