Fantasy about getting rich scores poorly

Shen Teng plays an incompetent goalkeeper who becomes the sole heir to a substantial fortune.
Shen Teng plays an incompetent goalkeeper who becomes the sole heir to a substantial fortune.PHOTO: CLOVER FILM

REVIEW / COMEDY

HELLO, MR BILLIONAIRE (PG13)

119 minutes/Opens today/ 2.5 stars

The story: Wang Duoyu (Shen Teng), an incompetent goalkeeper for a third-rate soccer team, suddenly finds himself the sole heir to 30 billion yuan (S$5.96 billion). The catch? In order to inherit, he has to spend one billion yuan in a month on himself and not own any assets at the end of it. And he cannot tell anyone what he is doing. His good friend Zhuang Qiang (Zhang Yiming) gets roped into the spending spree while Xia Zhu (Vivian Sung) is the accountant keeping tabs on his expenses.

If the plot sounds familiar, that is because the movie is a remake of the 1985 comedy Brewster's Millions - itself supposedly the seventh film based on the 1902 novel of the same name.

The enduring popularity of the premise could have something to do with the seductive fantasy of getting-rich-quick and the corollary thought: People definitely would not have a problem spending all that money.

Duoyu gives the challenge his best shot. He sponsors cockamamie schemes in a sequence that parodies the popular reality television programme Chinese Dream Show (2011 to present), as everyone around him claims to have a dream that needs funding.

Of course, things do not go smoothly for him. Even the most outlandish ideas end up generating more money and, suddenly, spending one billion yuan does not seem like such an easy task.

This loose China remake reunites writer-directors Fei Yan and Peng Damo and actor Shen of the hit comedy Goodbye Mr Loser (2015), which earned 1.44 billion yuan. Hello, Mr Billionaire has been even more successful, with box-office takings of 2.54 billion yuan.

It looks like Shen's lovable loser persona has struck a chord with audiences in China, to the point where they can accept a jarring romance between Duoyu and Xia Zhu (played by Taiwan's Vivian Sung, best known for the 2015 youth romance Our Times).

In a way, the movie tries to have its cake and eat it too.

It glorifies the most conspicuous of consumption, showing that money can buy the most delectable cuisine, the most luxurious accommodations and even a private concert by a music star with Wang Leehom making a cameo. But then it delivers a message about the importance of remaining untainted by wealth.

Not the most palatable turnaround.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2018, with the headline 'Fantasy about getting rich scores poorly'. Print Edition | Subscribe