“What you don’t dare imagine, we dare to do.” The slogan
of Personal Tailor, Feng Xiaogang’s latest comedy project, not only introduces the film’s basic idea of “living a dream”, it also expresses the director’s ambition.
Compared with his historical epics, such as Back to 1942 and Aftershock, which, to me, looked impressive but lacked a certain edge, I prefer Feng’s more satirical and humorous works that made him famous to begin with.
In that context, Personal Tailor took me back to an earlier Feng. The ingenious premise involves a small group of four people — Yang Zhong (Ge You), the “director of dreams” and his resourceful employees Miss Bai (Bai Baihe), the “fantastician” who designs dream scenarios, Lu Xiaolu (Li Xiaolu), the “caterer of whims”; and Ma Qing (Zheng Kai), the “spiritual anesthetist”.
For all their elaborate
titles, however, they’re essentially members of a high-concept company, which provides regular — and wealthy — clients with a taste of the lives they have always wanted.
In a series of separate segments, the team comes to the aid of a chauffeur
(Fan Wei) who yearns for a taste of power, a “vulgar” film director (Li Chengru) who wants to become a high-culture artist, and a middle-class woman (Song Dandan) who dreams of becoming a billionaire.
Either as a therapeutic
experience or something of a moral test, there are elements of satire and farce in each segment. Much of that is thanks to novelist Wang Shuo, who wrote the screenplay.
And as Feng’s films always do, it has a few impressive punch lines, such as “Fulfilling others by debasing ourselves”, or Feng’s playful self-parody “Chinese films, however bad, are never art.”
Jokes aside, Wang’s script grows increasingly serious, making modest
yet satirical criticisms of China’s political, artistic and economic values in the process.
After all, the film is about “sending a message”. Coming from director Feng — a man with a big ego — that’s almost predictable
. But maybe because Feng is too busy dealing with his ambition, the film never allows any of its four principal characters to really come into focus.
The last 15 minutes of the film take a 180-degree turn and become almost a public service announcement — an odd and unexpected ending to a consistently surprising comedy.
That’s something I never dared imagine, but Feng certainly did it.