Super Me review: Why becoming instantly rich isn't a good thing

Darren Wang Talu (left) and Cao Bingkun in Super Me. (Photo: Netflix)
Darren Wang Talu (left) and Cao Bingkun in Super Me. (Photo: Netflix)

Length: 97 minutes
Director: Zhang Chong
Cast: Wang Talu, Song Jia, Cao Bingkun, Wu Gang, King Shih-chieh
Language: Mandarin with various subtitles
Release details: Streaming on Netflix from 8 May

3 out of 5 stars

Super Me, which was released in theatres in China last month, is Netflix's latest Chinese film pickup this year after two Yin Yang Master movies. A fantasy story that blends action, romance and comedy, it's also at its heart a cautionary fable against wishing for unearned wealth as opposed to doing good, honest work based on one's own talents.

Taiwan's Darren Wang Talu stars as the protagonist Sang Yu, an insomniac screenwriter living in poverty who hasn't had any movie made based on his script despite slogging away on a half-broken laptop. He faces so much mental stress that he hasn't slept properly for several months, with his sleep disrupted every night in his dreams by a demonic monster who attacks and kills him. He eventually discovers that he can escape this agonising nightly "death" by saying the words "I am dreaming" and therefore exiting his dream. Furthermore, he somehow has the ability to bring priceless objects from his dreams into the real world.

Sang quickly becomes rich overnight by selling all the precious artefacts that he collects in his dreams. His former boss San Ge (Cao Bingkun), who used to chase him for missing script deadlines, is enamoured by his mysterious wealth, and now becomes his underling. Sang uses his newfound fortune to woo his longtime crush, cafe owner Hua Er (Song Jia). But his riches come at a price: the dream world continues to inflict injuries on him in some mysterious manner, and his money attracts the attention of gangster boss Qiang, played in an understatedly villainous fashion by Wu Gang.

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Super Me, the second feature film by writer-director Zhang Chong (The Fourth Wall), was originally supposed to be produced by Anthony and Joe Russo of Marvel Studios fame, through their Chinese studio start-up Anthem Pictures. But the sibling duo later dropped the film, which was eventually produced by Shanghai companies Hehe Pictures and Black Ant Entertainment. I found myself wondering what would have happened if the Russo brothers' know-how from the Avengers movies were to be applied in Super Me. The film's visual and special effects are good but not on Hollywood level, as is the case with other Chinese live-action fantasy movies.

For those who might expect epic action scenes going into this movie, there aren't really any, aside from Sang's fights with the dream monster and the gangsters after his money. The developing romance between Sang Yu and Hua Er is a major thread in the story, raising the personal stakes for the main character ahead of the film's climax. Wang's over-the-top acting shines best in comedic bits but his lack of dramatic gravitas is made more obvious against the subtler but more effective performances of his co-stars.

The focus on the romance comes at the expense of world-building; the rules and mechanics of the dream dimension – which we are merely given glimpses of in the movie – and how it relates to Sang Yu are not really explained, so the movie's resolution was rather confusing and unsatisfactory. And the ending to the movie is really anti-climactic – I can't say much about it without spoiling it, but it relies on a plot device often used in stories about dreams and time travel which I hate when it's used as a convenient ending. If you look at the movie as a parable based on the personal journey of one downtrodden screenwriter, the employment of this device makes some sense, but as a storytelling method it is quite irritating.

Super Me is not a bad movie for a night in, but be warned that it's not as action-packed as it might seem and the ending is rather anti-climactic and unsatisfactory.

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