REVIEW: Beautiful Accident (2017)

Li Yuran (Gwei Lun-mei) is a no-nonsense and unsympathetic defence lawyer. When she is killed in a late night car accident, she finds herself in the afterlife – a nightmarish bureaucracy – where her case manager (Wang Jingchun) explains that due to a clerical error she has been incorrectly killed. As it will take seven days to get her own life back in order, her soul is deposited into that of a suburban housewife with two children. Yuran is stuck in an unfamiliar nightmare while she tries to survive the week.

Beautiful Accident is a Chinese remake of the 2015 South Korean comedy Wonderful Nightmare. I have not seen the earlier film so cannot say how this second version compares. On its own merits Beautiful Accident is a charming comedic fantasy that is let down by very poor ending. As a result it is a mostly entertaining diversion, but one that is difficult to fully recommend.

Gwei Lun-mei creates a very strong protagonist in Li Yuran. She has a very clear arc through the film, from cold and selfish lawyer to warm-hearted and caring mother, but critically it is an arc that feels properly earned. It is not so much a matter of transforming Yuran’s outlook on life as it is restoring and exposing the outlook that was already there. It is a striking change in role for Gwei, who has excelled in a number of dramatic roles including Blue Gate Crossing (2002) and the superb Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014). She handles comedy wonderfully.

Among a generally solid supporting cast, Yuran’s new children are both very good. Young son Tian Tian (William Wang) gives one of those great juvenile performances that expresses nuance without sliding fully into a “wise beyond his years” stereotype. Wang Jingchun is also very effective as the station master who manages Yuran’s temporary life for her.

The film follows a great line in absurdist comedy when it comes to the afterlife. For one thing the station master pops up in the most unexpected of moments and locations, with a great sense of surreality. The afterlife is wonderfully presented as an endless waiting room of tickets and bored attendants. Viewers of Tim Burton’s comedy Beetlejuice will find it very familiar, but importantly so will anyone who’s watched enough Chinese film and television; the idea of a celestial bureaucracy dates back at least to late Imperial China (17th to 19th centuries), and very possibly much earlier (I am not an expert on Chinese culture and religion).

What a shame, then, that after so much warm and enjoyable comedy, Beautiful Accident all falls apart at the conclusion. Without spoiling matters too much, it takes the easiest ‘cop out’ solution to Yuran’s woes and cheats the audience of a genuinely satisfying resolution. The preceding hour and a half may be relatively mainstream and overly familiar, but at least it’s engaging and amusing. The climax makes one want to throw the entire film away in frustration and disgust. It’s a terrible shame.

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