'Namiya': Film Review

A functional, and more moral, but wholly unnecessary remake.

A cast of rising stars including Dilraba, Dong Zijian and Lee Hong-chi headline the Chinese remake of Ryuichi Hiroki’s 2017 fantasy drama.

The knock on remakes, particularly ones that come mere months apart, is that there’s little in the way of context to justify them, even when a property crosses cultures. Such is the case with Namiya, Han Jie’s Chinese retelling of Keigo Higashino’s The Miracles of the Namiya General Store, whose Japanese adaptation by Ryuichi Hiroki came roughly four months before. The nostalgia-heavy book was a decent seller in China, and superstar Jackie Chan’s appearance as the title character could help draw in curious comparison viewers in other parts of Asia, but what regional alterations there are don’t add much to an already thin story: Namiya is a case of “If you’ve seen the first one, don’t bother.” Overseas markets will be few and far between — it’s too lightweight for most festivals — barring distributors who can locate audiences with a keen interest in the film’s up-and-coming young stars.

The treacly Namiya begins exactly the way its Japanese iteration did. Three childhood friends, all orphans, break into an abandoned general store, the kind that used to be beating heart of a neighborhood before 24-hour convenience stores (New Yorkers would call it a local bodega), after trashing a wealthy woman’s house. They decide the best way to avoid the police is to camp out there overnight. Then, at a predetermined hour, a series of letters dated from the 1990s begin arriving in a magical mailbox, all addressed to the former owner (Jackie Chan), seeking his advice. Xiao Bo (Karry Wang, the young emperor in The Great Wall) and Tong Tong (television star Dilraba) decide to fill in for the absent owner, reasoning their knowledge of the past 30 years could be a boon to the needy pen pals. The jaded Jie (Dong Zijian, Mountains May Depart) wants no part of it, repeatedly telling them that writing back — somehow the letters cross time and space to reach their writers (think The Lake House) — is a waste of time and energy. Until he doesn't.

Through the letters, the interlocking nature of Xiao Bo, Tong Tong and Jie’s lives is illuminated as they piece together the biographies of another group of orphans back in the 1990s, among them a budding musician (Lee Hong-chi), and artist (Qin Hao, Legend of the Demon Cat), and club hostess Qianmei (Hao Lei as an adult, Chen Duling as girl). Chan’s doddering but sweet shopkeeper ties the two time periods together, even as he occasionally wonders whether or not his advice is hurting more than helping.

As in the first film, Namiya hinges on the idea that things were simpler in the 1990s (the 1980s in the Japanese version), bathing the flashbacks with a warm glow and keeping the linear stories free of moral gray areas, where the films’ most noticeable divergences are rooted. The kids in the original are troublemakers hiding from a petty theft burglary; in the Chinese version they’re wounded orphans (!) running from a misguided crime of passion (!!), which they ultimately atone for (!!!). Han seems to have little interest in creating anything other than a clarion call for the good old days (like Zhao Wei’s So Young, Peter Chan’s American Dreams in China, and a rash of others), before China went ultra-global and hutong were still where everyone lived.

Han is a pedestrian stylist, making the cast Namiya’s strongest asset. In a just world, the breakout would be Uyghur actress Dilraba, who displays the kind of distinct star power the Chinese industry could use more of. Emerging pop star (with boy band TFBoys) and Internet fixture Wang is the most untested player among the three leads, and Han wisely keeps him reactive to Dilraba and indie regular Dong’s more polished performances. Tech specs are suitably fantastical.

Production company: Haining Sunshine Films, Pebble Stone Production Limited
Cast: Karry Wang, Dilraba, Dong Zijian, Jackie Chan, Lee Hong-chi, Qin Hao, Dong Liwuyou, Hao Lei, Chen Duling, Pan Binlong, Brenda Li, Cheng Taishen, Yan Xiaopin, Gao Huayang
Director: Han Jie
Screenwriter: Tiger Xiao, Sun Siyu, Zhu Siyi, Han Jie, based on the book
The Miracles of the Namiya General Store by Keigo Higashino
Producer: Barbie Tung
Executive producer: Albert Yeung, John Zeng
Director of photography: Chris Lee
Production designer: Attis Lee
Costume designer: Wang Tao
Editor: Kong Chi-leung
Music: Nathan Wang
World sales:
Emperor Motion Pictures 

In Putonghua
116 minutes