FAT BUDDIES (2018) review


After starring in Wen Zhang’s directing debut, the passable romantic comedy When Larry met Mary, Bao Bei’er co-stars with Wen in his own directing debut, Fat Buddies, which – much like the former film – did solid but unremarkable business at the Chinese box-office. Coincidentally, it is one of two Japan-set fatsuit action comedies produced the same year in China, the other being Donnie Yen and Wong Jing’s Enter the Fat Dragon. Bao plays Hao Jingyun (an amusing game on words that sounds like he’s saying “Hello, handsome” every time he states his name to someone), a security guard at a Tokyo hospital who, having been obese most of his life, has learned to roll with the constant jokes about his weight, and at least has the love of his unfathomably attractive wife (Clara Lee). One day, Hao meets someone even fatter: J (Wen Zhang), a 150 kg reluctant patient of the hospital who says he’s on a mission to stop a drug kingpin masquerading as a philanthropist (Guo Jingfei). Sensing a kinship, Hao decides to follow J on his mission, despite the latter’s insistence on going it alone.

To expect subtlety from a comedy about obese people is perhaps too much to ask, but how about a bit of originality? Many of the gags in Fat Buddies involve the titular characters getting stuck in windows, failing to tie their shoes or jump over very low obstacles, destroying beds when they lie on them, and even quite simply farting. The rest is a very rote and rather poorly paced plot reminiscent of most buddy comedies: initial reluctance of one of them to work together, then the duo being the only ones to follow a particular lead, then initial success, embarrassment, break up, and reunion just in time for the finale. There are laughs along the way: posing as a couple of rotund dancers to infiltrate a party held by the bad guy, the fat buddies are put on the spot to execute a dance, which they do hilariously – later in the film, there’s a montage of a forlorn Wen Zhang where he’s seen dancing sadly to a street band at Shibuya Crossing: it’s an uproariously random sight.

And Bao and Wen have plenty of chemistry, the former wide-eyed and naive, managing a few fine moments of emotion mixed with hilarity, and the latter (strangely looking more like Tony Leung Ka Fai in a fatsuit than Wen Zhang in a fatsuit) dialed-down but still with the sharpest comic timing in the Chinese film industry. They’re surrounded by a fine supporting cast: Clara Lee gets to essay her own fat suit, Yasuaki Kurata is priceless as a hot-headed hospital dean in love with his car, Ryu Kohata plays an angry but very polite gangster, Zhang Menglu a sensational, double-sword wielding henchwoman, Xu Juncong a henchman with bad luck but who loves giving directions, and even Song Jia pops up in a nice cameo. Only Guo Jingfei as a stuttering villain fails to enliven his stock character.

Long Story Short: Crass, rote and oddly-paced, Fat Buddies nevertheless benefits from the fine chemistry of its leads, a good supporting cast, and a few gags that work if only because some of us are still in touch with our inner five year-old kid. **1/2

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