SUPER ME (2020) review

p2559199061The first film produced under Anthony and Joe Russo’s China-centric new venture Anthem Pictures (after some consulting on Wu Jing’s Wolf Warrior II), Zhang Chong’s Super Me follows Sang Yu (Darren Wang) is a struggling, penniless screenwriter on the verge of becoming homeless, and direly sleep-deprived for months: every time he falls asleep he is attacked by a demon and wakes up in terror. He spends his days evading Sange (Cao Bingkun), to whom he owes money for a script he didn’t write, and pining for Hua (Song Jia), his crush since college, now the owner of a coffee shop. One day, Sang Yu realizes that he can bring back treasures from his dreams, simply by grabbing them in the dream, and saying “I’m dreaming” at the moment when the demon attacks him. He becomes rich beyond his wildest dreams in a matter of days, but there’s a price to pay: his health deteriorates quickly, and a dangerous gangster (good old Wu Gang) sets his sights on him.

Though Zhang Chong’s Super Me is often an entertaining wild ride, with outrageous dream sequences and a striking representation of the subconscious as a massive cave teeming with what appears to be screens or mirrors, it unfortunately keeps making up its own rules as it goes, to the point where it becomes difficult to care. Inner logic is always the main stumbling block of such fantasy scenarios: it’s hard to generate involving drama when the parameters are not clearly set. Sure, there’s some Freud-dropping, with fast and loose evocations of the id, the ego and super-ego, and Kenneth Tsang and Elaine Jin pop up very briefly to dispense with some psychological/holistic jargon, but in the end, nothing that happens is ever compelling, because most of the key plot turns are pulled from a hat rather than organically brought about.

And while the film fancies itself a fable on wish-fulfillment and the price of instant gratification, it’s generally too silly to function that way, more interested in flash than introspection. It doesn’t help that Darren Wang gives one of his trademark cringeworthy performances, a numbing collection of goofy mugging, goofy crying and goofy dancing; here is an actor who film after film is incapable of acting as anything other than a careless child or wacky teenager. At close to 30, he doesn’t have long before that one trick turns from simply annoying to downright sad. This critically imbalances his relationship with Song Jia, whose affecting subtlety is simply in a different league. What could have been an achingly touching yet uneasy love story – he loves her sincerely, but the razzle-dazzle he conjures up to win her over is paper-thin and unsustainable – turns merely incongruous. Chin Shih Chieh, as a kindly street food vendor who helps Sang Yu in mysterious ways, also seems to exist in a different, more delicate film.

Long Story Short: An entertaining wild ride that could have been so much more, but keeps making up its own rules as it goes, and relies too much on Darren Wang’s wince-inducing tone-deaf acting. **1/2

 

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