A remake of a 1999 Stephen Chow classic, The New King of Comedy has hijinks galore and even some humor, but flops when it comes to creativity and charm.
The announcement of The New King of Comedy 新喜剧之王 last November was a surprise for many Stephen Chow 周星驰 fans. It was filmed in only a couple of months, finishing production just in time for a Chinese New Year release. The original 1999 film, King of Comedy, 喜剧之王is one of Chow’s most beloved movies, with an 8.7 out of 10 user rating on Douban. In that version, Chow played a movie extra trying to make it big in Hong Kong, all the while teaching a rude club girl how to act nice and innocent to her clients. It’s a silly, offbeat comedy, and while there are plenty of non sequiturs and crude jokes, the story has a heart to it, too.
As a remake, The New King of Comedy follows the same basic formula, but with some notable differences. Relocating the action to mainland China, the new underdog of the title is a 30-year-old woman named Dreamy, played by actress E Jingwen 鄂靖文. Dreamy has spent more than a decade pursuing her dream to become a star, but despite her determination and hard work, she is stuck playing background extras. Her naivety, and her tendency to overact, don’t help much in her favor.
Dreamy’s parents try to be supportive, but her lack of success has strained her dad’s patience. He thinks that Dreamy should have been a lawyer, not a movie extra. When Dreamy shows up to his birthday dinner dressed as a corpse, complete with a hatchet sticking out of her head, her dad threatens to add another one. Dreamy’s boyfriend Charlie believes in her, but struggles with his own plan to become the next Bill Gates. For some reason, he’s constantly needing more money for his startup, and Dreamy is all too glad to let him skimp money out of their wedding fund.
On Charlie’s suggestion, Dreamy decides to try out for the lead role in a family-centered Snow White action flick. To get a more “Western” look, Dreamy goes to a plastic surgeon who gives her a freakishly large chin. At the audition, Dreamy ends up being miscast as a stunt double. Washed-up child star Marco (played by actor Wang Baoqiang 王宝强) is the lead of the movie, playing a Snow White who’s become a man after eating a poisonous banana. Marco was the actor who inspired Dreamy to take up acting in the first place, yet seeing him on set, Dreamy becomes a victim of his many annoying tantrums.
Eventually, the director of the movie becomes tired of Marco’s sloppy acting. To get footage of a more authentic reaction from his star, the director dresses Dreamy up as a vengeful ghost and sets her loose on Marco. The results are perfect, but also extremely embarrassing. Marco is furious, and when he erupts in another outburst, the director sacks him from the production. Feeling down, Dreamy leaves the set only to suffer further humiliation that night.
In contrast to the original, The New King of Comedy is more serious and dramatic. The humor isn’t nearly as crude or dark, although Dreamy is almost as much a punching bag as an aspiring actress. There are some throwbacks to the 1999 version, but Chow and co-director Herman Yau 邱礼涛 keep the references to a minimum. They could easily have done a lazy remake, shamelessly ripping off the original’s best gags, but the new version attempts to be fresh. Unfortunately, this more recent take never makes the case of why the original needed to be retold.
None of the characters, for example, are as charming as the first movie’s cast. Dreamy is a heroine we can root for, but Marco never comes across as likeable or understandable. When his life hits rock bottom, it’s hard to feel any sympathy for a man who we’ve watched scream and whine most of the time he’s been on-screen. Dreamy’s parents, roommate, and boyfriend all have their own quirks, but they’re never as interesting as the people we met in King of Comedy, which included teenage gangsters, a wacky community center, and a delightfully misanthropic lunchbox caterer.
Perhaps the movie might have been able to make up for its shallow cast and bland plot with some strong jokes and set pieces, but it doesn’t succeed much in those departments either. There are, of course, some great lines and moments. Dreamy’s discovery of what her boyfriend really does for a living is hilarious, and her dad’s disastrous birthday dinner had me laughing hard. Other times, such as an opening scene in which Dreamy mistakes a dying man for an actor, suffer from poor execution and timing.
Standing on its own, The New King of Comedy is merely a competent comedy-drama. There are jokes and feel-good moments and family values, but nothing that makes it any more special than your run-of-the-mill New Year movie. In comparison to its source material, The New King of Comedy is only a disappointment. It has none of the creativity, humor, or charm of King of Comedy, making it a pointless remake that fails to reinvent or expand on the original.
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