The Last Wish (Wei Da De Yuan Wang)
China (2019) Dir. Tian Yusheng
It must be great to have good friends who will move heaven and earth just for you, make sacrifices to make a wish come to for you and to miss you when you’re gone. I don’t know what that is like but it seems like a precious thing to have in your life and to hold on to until the bitter end.
Summer 2002 and 19 year-old Gao Yuan (Peng Yuchang), a recent high school graduate, has been paralysed from the neck down by a form of muscular dystrophy. He is not only supported by his parents (Li Ge and Yue Yang) but his best friends from childhood Xu Hao (Wang Dalu) and Zhang Zhengyang (Wei Daxun). However, Gao Yuan’s doctor (Jia Bing) reveals to his parents that he hasn’t got long to live.
Without telling him, they ask what Gao Yuan’s special wish is and get it wrong in trying to fulfil it. Meanwhile Zhang and Xu Hao sneak Gao Yuan out of the hospital for a trip to the beach where they meet a sexy hairdresser (Zeng Mengxue). Back at the hospital, Gao Yuan has figured out he is going to die and confides in his friends that he wants to lose his virginity before he goes, so they set about finding a girl to make his last wish come true.
The Last Wish is practically a beat-for-beat remake of a 2016 Korean comedy The Last Ride though one can find traces of the plot in the 2011 Belgium comedy Come As You Are. It has a premise which one could imagine coming from Hollywood as a teen gross out comedy, but if they did remake it, they’ve have to set it in the 1980’s because there are elements of it that just won’t wash if set in today’s post #MeToo environment.
Perhaps this is why this film is set in 2002, as a way to circumvent any accusations of being tone deaf to current sensitivities, although that has never stopped Asian cinema before. I’ve not seen the Korean original but the trailer suggests it might actually go a little further with the bawdier aspect of the central premise, which again isn’t much of a surprise.
Back to this film and it opens by introducing us to the terrible trio whose reputation at high school is a badge of honour for them, and a thorn in the side of a former teacher (Feng Jiayi) who they regularly encounter in a running gag that goes nowhere. Before Gao Yuan’s illness struck, he was a keen basketball fan, something he has obviously had to forego due to his paralysis, which has left him depressed.
In one scene, Gao Yuan’s mother thinks his wish is to meet his basketball hero, the 6’ 11 Mengke Bateer, who makes a TV dedication to Gao Yuan saying “I know you’re watching” the cutting to Gao Yuan grinning at a sexy girl pop group on another channel! Gao Yuan’s father gets it into his head that his son would like to run a marathon with him, which ends in disaster in one of the crueller gags that fail to hit the target.
Trying to gauge the intent of this film from its tone and content is not easy, except that it has the feel and attitude of a cheeky comedy that dares to tip its toe into black waters for some controversial laughs, but doesn’t quite have the wit to pull it off. Once the idea of Gao Yuan popping his cherry becomes the focus, there is little hope of any redemption with regard to the level of humour and for the most part, this is justified.
As his best friends, Zhang and Xu Hao decide to call on every girl from high school in the hope one of them will accommodate Gao Yuan, the joke being them getting their faces slapped every time. One girl (Wang Yuwen) did have a crush on Gao Yan but was the class tubby – emphasis on the “was”, as she is now a slender beauty. I won’t spoil the outcome but whilst comes across as tacky as it reads – could it have been worse if she was still fat? I shudder to think.
Eventually, Zhang and Xu Hao recall the hairdresser Gao Yuan had a crush on so they work hard to pay her enough money and buy bribery gifts to visit their friend because she is too unattainable to sleep with a paraplegic otherwise. The messages this sends are quite appalling but by this point, with so much tawdry material, one doesn’t have much confidence of a respectable conclusion.
Fortunately, or surprisingly depending on your point of view, the last 20 minutes deliver just that, the tone shifting dramatically from tacky to touching. This brings about a complete personality overhaul for everyone, except Gao Yuan, which in reality would have happened as soon as his diagnosis appeared but we wouldn’t have a film otherwise. This isn’t suggesting that the whole film needed to be blandly politically correct but the topic could have been handled with a bit more finesse.
Production values are high, everything is nicely shot, and the cast throw themselves into their role, clearly with less concern about the script than I have, or maybe because they knew the ending before I did. In true movie fashion, the teen boys are played by actors that are much older but their characters aren’t written well enough for the humour to make them likeable or endearing, again Gao Yuan accepted.
Whilst there were a few laughs and an undeserving poignant ending, The Last Wish is presented with a concept that could have been substantially more well meaning in its execution and storytelling even with its ribald plot, but instead offers something flimsy and lacking in panache. Not entirely hateable but difficult to recommend. I now wonder – maybe dread – about what the Korean version is like.