Movie Review: Hello, Mrs. Money (2018)
The actual title of “Hello, Mrs. Money” is “Li Cha’s Aunt” (《李茶的姑妈》). Transpose the name and you get the idea. It’s based on “Charley’s Aunt,” the 19th-century British farce that became a 20th-century Jack Benny comedy, which is now this 21st-century Chinese rom-com/finger-wagging reminder to China not to lose itself in its quest for riches.
Is there something about empires that demand comedies about falling fortunes and men in drag?
Whatever, it’s not good. Given the filmmakers’ track record, it’s not very popular, either.
Mahua FunAge was formed in 2003 to stage plays, then branched out into TV in 2013. Two years later, it released its first movie, “Goodbye, Mr. Loser,” a kind of remake of “Peggy Sue Got Married,” in which a loser goes back 20 years in time, and, with his knowledge of future pop songs, turns himself into a pop superstar. It grossed $226 million. Last year, Mahua released “Never Say Die,” a body-switching rom-com: $334 million. Earlier this year, “Hello, Mr. Billionaire,” the sequel to “Loser,” was released: $370 million. Boom boom boom.
Then fizz. This one is sputtering. No idea why. Would be interesting to get Chinese thoughts on the matter. I wasn’t a huge fan of the others, but they’re comedies and a lot gets lost in translation. That said, it’s definitely been a downward trend for me: most laughs (“Mr. Loser”) to least (“Mrs. Money”).
At a Sunday matinee show at Pacific Place in downtown Seattle (att.: 3), most of my time was spent waiting out overlong set-pieces and not-exactly #MeToo-friendly scenarios. Nothing funnier than a man in drag being sexually assaulted by a grinning lothario who won’t take no for an answer. Nothing funnier than date-rape drugs sprinkled into drinks. It felt a vague consolation that the powder was less sedative than Chinese aphrodisiac, and the people who drank it were already in relationships; but those relationships weren’t worth saving. The deer that lost its antlers or penis for the aphrodisiac is probably going: “Really? For this?”
Let’s see if I can break down the plot.
Andy Wong, CEO of a company that’s quietly going bankrupt, has two daughters. LiLi is married to Jerry (Allen Ai of “Never Say Die”), a corporate VP who has a roving eye; LuLu is pursued by Richard, the titular Li Cha, whom she can’t stand. But she agrees to marry him anyway to save her father’s business. Richard’s aunt, you see, is Miss Monica (Celina Jade of “Wolf Warrior II”), an expat worth tons, whom no one has ever seen. Everyone is awaiting her arrival at a lavish engagement party on some tropical island—I think maybe Macao, which I never thought of as a tropical island.
Except Miss Monica doesn’t show. Or she shows up in disguise—as a maid. She wants to see if the love is real.
Meanwhile, Jerry’s assistant, Huang (Huang Cailun), a flunky who dreams of riches, and who has set up everything perfectly for Miss Monica, spends a night indulging himself in her suite. When he’s discovered by the others in a bathrobe and with a towel wrapped around his hungover head, he’s assumed to be Miss Monica, and Jerry and Richard get him to play along. Antics ensue.
The most tiresome set piece has Huang running from one end of the island to the other, dressed as either Huang or Miss Monica, depending on the situation and demand. One time, of course, he shows up for Huang’s duties dressed as Miss Monica. Antics ensue.
The most problematic subplot involves Jerry’s father, who wants to kill himself because he, too, is now bankrupt. Instead, his son suggests he make a play for Miss Monica. The father’s idea of “making a play” is to be the grinning lothario mentioned above.
Increasingly absurd, the movie reaches a face-palm crescendo when both Jerry’s dad and Jerry’s boss threaten suicide unless Miss Monica (Huang in drag) marries them. So a wedding is staged where she agrees to marry both. Except she doesn’t. Instead, she (Huang in drag) counsels the crowd against the pursuit of wealth. I.e., the movie has everyone pursuing wealth and its message is: Don’t pursue wealth. And the message is coming from a company making hundreds of millions off so-so comedies.
That said, Huang’s (or the Chinese government’s) finger-wagging speech leads to my favorite part of the movie. Huang’s ex and her fiancé happen to be on the island, and both wind up at the wedding. After Monica’s/Huang’s speech about being true to yourself, the fiancé stands and applauds this important message—then quickly declares his love for Miss Monica and asks for her hand in marriage. This is followed by a flurry of similar offers from other guests, including one foreigner pushing his child forward and saying, “Say hi to your new mommy!”
At this point, with Monica/Huang in wedding dress pursued by a greedy crowd, there’s almost a “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” vibe to the movie. Would that it were that funny.