Beautiful Accident (Mei hao de yi wai)

China (2017) Dir. Ho Wi Ding

When our time comes to shuffle off this mortal coil I’m sure those of us taken too early would wish we could go back and finish what we started, maybe even change some of the mistakes we made. Imagine, however, if you were given this chance but in someone else’s life instead of yours – one which you know nothing about?

Li Yu Ran (Gwei Lun-Mei) is a haughty, ambitious 30-something lawyer who sees no gain in being in a relationship or having children. After snuffing out a potential rape case by siding with the rich family of the accused which leaves the young female accuser to attempt suicide, Yu Ran’s austere attitude is called into question. That night, as she is driving home, Yu Ran is hit by a truck and killed instantly.

She awakens in the Terminal of Fate, a sort of temporary purgatory. Director Lee (Wang Jingchun) explains to Yu Ran that due to a clerical error she was taken in place of an older woman with the same name, so Yu Ran is offered the chance to return to the living world as another Li Yu Ran, a housewife due to die in seven days time.

A Christmas Carol, It’s A Wonderful Life, Freaky Friday and other films with a similar “road to redemption” fantasy premise can be found in the DNA of Beautiful Accident – itself is a remake of a 2015 Korean rom-com Wonderful Nightmare – along with more down-to-earth fare like Overboard and the recent Korean comedy, also remade by both China and Japan, Miss Granny.

This means originality isn’t at the forefront of this film, which makes the moralising all the more difficult to entertain when audiences have seen it all before. Once the ball begins to roll with Yu Ran’s temporary new domestic situation the script writes itself and the viewer is waiting patiently for the next formulaic plot beat to arrive, seldom to be disappointed.  

Not that this film is a total write-off; it’s easy going charm, great lead performance and emotionally charged third act compensate for its shortcomings, while the familiarity of the script make for a more comfortable watch than a frustrating one. I’ve not seen the Korean original (apparently 20 minutes longer) so there won’t be any comparisons made but I can guess some of the differences from a quick Google search.

Perhaps most tellingly is that Wonderful Nightmare stars Uhm Jung-hwa, a popular star in Korea for almost thirty years, and at 46 years-old at the time, fits the role of the housewife mother to a teenage daughter more convincingly than baby-faced Gwei Lun Mei, who at 34 years-old can still pass for mid-20’s. A small detail maybe, but a sign that the Chinese film industry is taking the aping of Hollywood very seriously.

Director Ho Wi Ding wastes no time in delineating Yu Ran’s standoffish personality, from the over confident walk to the ice cold delivery of her deconstruction of the accuser’s claim in the rape case, all that is missing is the evil sneer to make her a true villain. Even her colleagues tell Yu Ran to lighten, but a brutal sparring session at her Judo club demonstrates that Yu Ran is all business.

We are not even seven minutes into the film before the fatal car accident happens, so no room for sympathy has been fostered, but the karma of Yu Ran being treated with the same officious short shrift in the Terminal of Fate is not as delicious as it should be. The concept that purgatory should be a huge civic bureau is a great one, made more entertaining for when Yu Ran is ushered into a tiny office overflowing with paperwork.

Also amusing is Yu Ran’s death being a clerical error caused by a shared name with someone else, a Python-esque premise if ever there was one. Waiting for Yu Ran in the living world is overworked architect husband Zhang Tao (Chen Kun), stroppy teenage daughter Xing Xing (Ouyang Na’na) and 9 year-old son Tian Tian (William Wang).

The adjustment period for Yu Ran in her new role sees her switch from uptight ice queen to comedy cliché almost instantly and despite warnings not to expose herself as a fake, this unusual behaviour doesn’t register with her new family for quite a while – except for Tian Tian, who thinks his mother has been replaced by an alien because his real mum is off for a trip to the stars.

Not as cloying as it sounds, this relationship is the most realistic and sweetest of the three that develop as it reflects on Yu Ran’s personality to bond with Tian Tian, whilst the other two see her relying on her legal prowess to sort out problems and win over Zhang Tao and Xing Xing respectively, the latter scenario most people will see coming a mile off. It serves its purpose story wise but its lack of subtlety works against it.

Of course, the conclusion is never in doubt, given a last minute twist that really needed to have been established with more prominence since I forgot about the brief mention of it in the early going, but the earnestness of the cast and the swift pacing of the story-telling is efficient enough to keep us distracted from dwelling on this and other niggling questions.

Taiwanese actress Gwei Lun-Mei is still young despite being a near 20-year career, her effervescence and genuine likeability given a chance to shine along with her dramatic acting chops. This is clearly a vehicle for Gwei first and foremost, and while she may be better than the material, she carries herself without displaying the same aloof loftiness as her character.

A nice concept that lends itself to much more, Beautiful Accident is a pleasant and amiable enough Sunday afternoon time waster that follows the “body switch” fantasy subgenre formula a little too closely to break new ground.