Trailer: “B for Busy” 2021
‘Bfor Busy’ (爱情神话) is a 2021 Chinese romantic drama written and directed by Shao Yihui.
The film revolves around a divorced man who wishes he could be content alone but can’t resist chasing true love. The cast includes Xu Zheng, Ma Yili, Wu Yue, Ni Hongjie, Zhou Yemang, Huang Minghao, and Wang Yinglu.
Synopsis: Old Bai, a Shanghai uncle, has been divorced for many years and makes his living by teaching people to paint. Bai is a good friend of Lao Wu, who had an exotic love affair many years prior and is now content to live alone for the rest of his life. Bai envies Wu, but he can only live in the reality of the world. Wu only loves one person in his life, and finally writes the myth of love like a dream… [© Far East Films]
‘B for Busy’ opens across China on December 24, 2021.
“The Battle at Lake Changjin” (2021) may have been the Chinese film of the year, but for moviegoers in Shanghai, one young director’s debut feature set in the city has stolen its thunder.
Released on Christmas Eve, director Shao Yihui’s “B for Busy” has grossed $37 million so far—for sure, a paltry box office compared to the $902 million of the Korean War epic. However, that this low-budget drama revolving around middle-age romance can become the highest rated Chinese film of the year within eight days after its release—whereas “Battle” doesn’t even make it to top ten—seems to say a lot about what Chinese audiences currently want and appreciate.
“B for Busy,” whose Chinese title is “Myth of Love,” starts with a date of two middle-aged divorcees: middle-class art teacher Lao Bai (Xu Zheng, who is also the executive producer of the production) who makes a living by collecting rent on his houses and advertising director Ms. Li (Ma Yili) who lives with her nagging mother and young daughter. While he falls in love with her, she seeks to maintain distance. To impress the hesitant Ms. Li, Lao Bai agrees to his old friend Lao Wu’s (Zhou Yemang) offer to open an exhibition of his paintings and makes friends with Li’s witty daughter Maya (Feng Maya). But the road to their romance is fraught with seemingly simple yet realistically complicated hurdles.
As the Chinese saying “three women are enough for a drama” goes, the other two women in the story are Lao Bai’s ex-wife Beibei (Wu Yue) and one of his painting students Gloria (Ni Hongjie), a rich woman who teases and flirts with him. Also included in the film is a subplot of Lao Bai’s son Bai Ge (Huang Minghao), whose girlfriend (Wang Yinglu) calls “mama’s boy.” Overall, however, the main characters are all well-cast (especially the three women), well-developed, and refuse any convenient labeling.
“B for Busy” is a Chinese film; but more importantly, it is a Shanghai film. When most fans of Chinese cinema hear “dialect cinema,” they would perhaps think of Jia Zhangke’s “The World” (2004) or “Still Life” (2006), but here is a movie whose characters all speak Shanghainese from the beginning to the end. Sure, there is some Mandarin, but we also have a coffee-drinking cobbler who speaks in English quotes and French-speaking, whiskey-sipping Lao Wu reminiscing about his romantic night with the Italian actress Sophia Loren that may or may not have happened while he was a student in Paris. Even the many nondiegetic English soundtracks seem to draw you closer into the world of Shanghai, thanks to the music by Wen Zi who previously worked on director Diao Yinan’s films. Such a soundscape would seem pretentious and forced in any other Chinese city.
Moreover, one not only hears but also sees and recognizes the city from the unmistakable streets and alleys of the old French Concession where the story unravels. Indeed, Shanghai is as much a setting as it is a character in “B for Busy.” No wonder the city’s cinemagoers embraced the film and contributed to more than forty percent of its box office.
“B for Busy” is a bold movie, not just in deciding to shoot it in Shanghainese (reliance on subtitles in other regions of China definitely hurt its financial success) but also for its exploration of social topics such as traditional views on men and women and its positive representations of sexually liberal and childless women and the so-called “sissy men.” “A woman’s life isn’t complete until she has children,” says one of the women. To which another replies, “No woman is complete without living her life for herself.” Shao, who also wrote the screenplay, even makes something of a meta joke, criticizing male Chinese directors’ depiction of women as either “sluts” or “virgins.”
The feature is bold even in its subtlety—one of the self-claimed chief characteristics of Chinese people. Just as Shanghai is visually showcased through old apartments and streets of distinctive style, instead of the skyscrapers and the Bund, the characters express themselves and communicate with each other in metaphors and other intriguing roundabout ways. When Lao Bai pays a sudden visit to Ms. Li after she’s been distancing herself from him, she gives her daughter a dictation that includes the phrases “calm down,” “keep distance,” and “regret” while he sits next to her.
One aspect in which the production flounders is its depiction of the non-Chinese characters. The only two visible foreigners in the film are Alexander, a young Italian welch tenant of Lao Bai played by Iranian actor Hamzah Mohamed Nagi Al-salami, and Ms. Li’s biracial daughter Maya who stresses a clear division between Chinese and British/foreign people in at least one scene. Then there is Maya’s British “white trash”, “scumbag” father who we never actually see and to whom, or because of who, Ms. Li has lost two apartments. If Shao can deftly give a progressive representation to women and soft masculinity, offer a glimpse into the current cultural climate in China through a short scene with a hassling urban management officer (chengguan), and even slip in a very subtle advertisement for e-cigarette in two scenes, she could have portrayed his non-Chinese characters in a more positive light with just a little more effort.
Realistic, funny, heartwarming (but not necessarily feel-good), and genuinely clever, “B for Busy” can be safely said to be one of the most well-made films to screen in mainland Chinese cinemas in the last few years.
-A star known for excelling in hilarious comedies, Xu Zheng has recently toned down his trademark style to bring audience a little bit plain yet thought-provoking work, B for Busy.
Starring Xu and his fellow Shanghai actors, the film set in Shanghai is all in the city’s local dialect, an endeavor that Xu wishes gives the film a special “flavor”.
The tale recounts Xu-starring painter trying to romance with actress Ma Yili-starring Ms Li, an advertisement employee who raises her daughter alone after filing for divorce from her British husband. But his plan to enjoy a romantic night is disturbed by several unexpected visitors, a troublesome student, his still jealous ex-wife, and a nosy neighbor.
More interestingly, Italian actress Sophia Loren – the Hollywood legend whose classic The Cassandra Crossing has captivated many fans in China – is mentioned in the movie many times as a pivotal clue about another fictional “romance”.
Xu, who also serves as the executive producer, said during the Beijing premiere that the film aims to expand the diversity of movie genres in domestic industry, which is currently dominated by actions-packed tentpoles.
Unlike most of Xu’s previous films, which travel from China to foreign destinations, B for Busy is set in a much smaller area within a radius of 2 kilometers in western Shanghai, giving audience a delicate perspective to savor the distinctive flavors of the city, observed some critics at the premiere.