September was a month of laughs in Chinese cinemas. While few were surprised by the box office success of Xu Zheng’s Lost in Hong Kong or aging heartthrob Andy Lau’s Saving Mr. Wu, Goodbye Mr. Loser snuck in as a surprise success.
Yan Fei and Peng Damo’s tragicomic adventure opens with a wedding. But the wedding is no cause for cheers. It’s the marriage of Xia Luo’s dream girl, Qiu Ya, to another man.
Xia is a 30-something failure who has made nothing out of his life since finishing high school. Desperate to win back some dignity, Xia splurges on a large hongbao and snazzy suit. But his carefully purchased illusion of success falls to pieces under the assault of baijiu.
His wife, Ma Dongmei, soon tells the wedding party about her husband’s shameful life and lies, and Xia makes a cowardly bolt for the men’s room to escape from reality.
During a long embrace with the porcelain god, Xia falls asleep and has a long dream and returns to his high school years. He meets his dead mother and sings a song he wrote for Qiu Ya.
When Xia Luo realizes that superstars such as Jay Chou and Pu Shu are still unknown in this time, he decides to do something.
Stealing the songs of the future, Xia rockets to stardom and finds himself on the cover of TIME magazine. He is soon invited to take the stage with Na Ying at the Spring Festival Gala and to write songs for Andy Lau’s new album. Xia dumps Dongmei and marries Qiu Ya, and all his former bullies come to him to beg for connections and cash.
It’s the perfect life – until he realizes he threw Dongmei under the bus. Eventually, Xia begins to miss his ordinary life and laments how Dongmei was left to marry the class idiot. His regrets reach a new height when he discovers a life of hard partying and high success gave him another gift: HIV.
Swirling back into reality, Xia pushes himself up off the toilet and returns to the wedding with a new appreciation for his mediocre life.
Beyond its happy ending, Goodbye Mr. Loser won applause for its one-liners, such as when Jay Chou loses a singing competition and says, “I feel like living under the shadow of Xia Luo. I just don’t know why.”
But the real success of the comedy was more than its laughs.
Chen Peisi famously said the soul of comedy is tragedy. It pushes people to their highest point and drags them down into sadness.
Online commentator Juluo noted how closely Goodbye Mr. Loser followed this model with Xia Luo’s return to real life. The story ends with Xia Luo and Ma Dongmei enjoying their life, but never mentions whether Xia learned to be a real man.