Author：Verbena C. W，Elaine Yang
“Donkeys are animals, so are humans.”
This has become the most popular online saying in 2016. Even more incredible, the words came from an obscure comedy, Mr. Donkey, which has no major stars, no big budget, and no elaborate promotion.
Mr. Donkey is set during the Republic of China era. After four idealistic college teachers set up a school in a remote village, they were strapped for money, so the principal and three teachers fabricated a fake teacher called Lv Deshui to get more funding from the Education Ministry. The fake teacher is really “Mr. Donkey,” a donkey carrying water daily for the staff. One day, the Education Ministry sent an official to inspect Mr. Donkey’s teaching. In a panic, the teachers gave a makeover to a local coppersmith, who talks with a heavy dialect, and tried to pass him off as Mr. Lv, however, things became even more out of control with this ruse….
The humor in this movie is unlike Charles Chaplin’s comedy, nor is it the same appeal as Now You See Me or Keeping Up with the Joneses, Hollywood comedies which combine suspense with humor. Mr. Donkey uses comedy to portray the unique human nature in a certain time period of Chinese history. Some viewers said the depth of Mr. Donkey lies in its exposure of the greed, weakness, self-deceit, political corruption, lunacy, and snobbery. Others have said the movie is a brutish experiment and exhibition of human evil, possibly inciting discomfort from viewers. Because of the controversy, the movie has earned more than 140 million yuan in box office in less than 10 days of screening, surpassing Hollywood blockbusters and setting a new record for domestic Chinese films.
In fact, Mr. Donkey is not the first comedy in China to be such a sensation. Ten years ago, Crazy Stone, a film directed by young director Ning Hao, was a spectacular hit. In the movie, a factory on the verge of closing suddenly unearthed many rare emeralds, setting off a series of funny and ludicrous events. In 2015, Kaixin Mahua, a theatre production company, released a movie based on a play of the same name, Goodbye Mr. Loser, in which Xia Luo, a man unlucky at love, suddenly found himself back in time after creating havoc at his ex’s wedding, and his ultimate success at finding true love. The move earned 1.4 billion yuan at the box office. Mr. Donkey is the company’s second movie.
When people think of reasons for the success of Chinese comedies, there’s always a lot of answers: Office buildings with people working all night, endless bills at the end of every month, huge crowds at job fairs… Life with such a fast pace and high pressure can make everyone feel tightly-wound and afraid to relax. People need an outlet, a reason to laugh, and to let off some steam. In this golden age of Chinese comedy, the creators of these offerings are still hard at work building new stories, cultivating new markets, and finding new topics to make the comedy stage come alive.