All-Time Favorite: 《超市》

“I only understood about 5% of what they said,” an American friend of mine said after watching One Night in Supermarket. “But it was still one of the funniest things I’ve seen in my life.”

And that’s exactly what caught my attention the first time I saw 《超市》, also known as 《夜店》. In language school, a classmate of mine showed up one morning and said, “Teacher, I found this great movie. Can we watch it?” The teacher said, “Sure!” And that’s how we spent our next two class periods. Time well spent. Seriously. We were all delighted at how much we understood.

Why It’s Great

As a cinema graduate, I was struck by much more than humor. This was clearly a bottom-of-the-barrel shoestring budget film, yet it was bursting with young talent. What it lacked in money, it made up for in raw cinematic zeal. The director, in spite of lacking polish, packed the film with visual punch from start to finish. He knows editing and how to visually tell a story.

This last quality, as Hitchcock often pointed out, is the true measure of a director: The story is told with the camera, not the dialogue. You could turn off the sound and still pretty much know what was going on. Which is undoubtedly why I’ve found this film to be a favorite among students of Chinese—no matter what your level, you can still follow much of the action when you’re clueless about what people are saying. When you consider the fact that the whole thing takes place within the 4 walls of a convenience store, that’s quite an accomplishment.

If I were a film critic looking at this director, I’d say, “Watch this kid. He may not have much to show yet, but he’s a budding Spielberg.”

In addition, all the performances are strong, and appropriately over-the-top. 徐峥 Xú Zhēng is terrific in the lead role (the bald guy trying to take the money), and immediately became my favorite Chinese actor. He’s almost as good in the much more well-known Lost on Journey 《人在囧途》, a side-splitting comedy about the horrors of traveling during Chinese New Year (review coming next month).

The Story

The premise is pretty simple: Boy and girl work in a convenience store. Boy likes girl. Girl doesn’t know boy exists. Late one night two men come in to steal money. The register is pretty much empty, so the men tie up the boy and girl and work the night shift to collect more money to steal. Hilarity ensues.

If I were a film critic, I’d knock a star off this film’s rating due to how muddled it got toward the end. Also, there were some great ideas that didn’t quite work out, such as the doggiecam scene. But that doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm about this film.

Language-Learning Value

Of course, the whole point of this blog is not to be entertained, but to learn Chinese. Early on in my education, I came across a priceless tip: Pick one movie, and watch it over and over and over throughout your education until you understand every sentence. At least 30 times.

I chose two movies, one of which was《超市》, and I was glad I did. I’m not so sure my wife was glad, though. During our early months of marriage, she had to put up with me randomly impersonating characters from the movie. “找电!”

I’ve long lost track of how many times I’ve seen it, and my head is loaded with memorable one-liners (“哎呀,忘了录了!”) that come back to me as easily now as they did 5 years ago. (“扣我的!扣我的!扣我的!扣我的!扣我的!”)

Where to Watch

Believe it or not, there’s a rather low quality, slightly-out-of-sync version on YouTube. With Thai subtitles!

I’m glad I grabbed a high-quality DVD before coming back to the U.S. I never get tired of watching it, and I keep picking up a few more words and phrases here and there. Before I had kids, I considered writing English subtitles as a project. But at this point in life, that’s definitely not happening.

Note: I found a much better copy on Youku. You can see it here.

One more thing: Why does it have two names? I suspect it’s a bit like Ace in the Hole. The first name was right, and then later a new name got slapped on for some reason. This film’s original name was obviously 《超市》, so I’m standing by the filmmakers!

Disclaimer: This of course is not an endorsement of the film’s content. Like all entertainment, watch with discretion. If this were released in the U.S., my guess is that it would be PG for some crudeness and immodesty. There are a couple of spots I skip every time, which for me is the case with most movies.

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