If 10 is the top score for a new film, viewers say Laopao’er should score a 9.9. The only criticism seems to be of a few actors who tried to imitate the Beijing dialect.
Laopao’er is a Beijing dialect word that refers to the classic image of the Beijinger: an unemployed man wandering around the city with a birdcage while on the hunt for amusement.
The film’s Liuye is a typical laopao’er.
As a 50-something man, Liuye used to be a powerful and aggressive figure in his Old Beijing community. But redevelopment brought huge changes to Liuye’s life.
Like many old men of the hutong, Liuye walks his birds, interferes in his neighbors’ family disputes, complains about his life and watches the days go by. But one day, he comes into severe conflict with his son Xiaobo.
Xiaobo leaves home and ends up in trouble with Xiaofei, a rich heir out to assert his privilege. To save his son, Liuye decides to return to society.
Together with his old crew, Mensan’er, Huaxiazi and Dengzhao’er, the four men confront a new generation of Beijing gangsters only to learn their old way of solving problems no longer works. Helpless, Liuye is forced to come to grips with the death of his era as his health crumbles.
Audiences described the film as “a fight between old Beijing gangsters and young Beijing gangsters.” But the reason that the film snagged more than 700 million yuan in ticket sales and an 8.5-star rating on Douban goes beyond its story.
The film captures the Beijing spirit that has been too often missed by directors from other parts of China.
Old Beijing people value justice, integrity, order and friendship more than life, and the characters in the film are a reflection of that dying culture.
Huaxiazi (played by Xu Qing), Liuye’s lover, is the typical Beijing woman who hands all of her possession to Liuye without a second thought when he needs her help. She is beautiful, decisive and not restrained like most Beijing girls.
Mensan’er (played by Zhang Hanyu) became friends with Liuye after the two got in a fight during childhood. He’s a template for the city’s strength and pride.
But Dengzhao’er (played by Liu Hua) represents another kind of Beijing men. Dengzhao’er is a coward who wants to fight but he doesn’t dare to. People like Dengzhao’er favor their friends but often end up being the ones in need of help.
Liuye (played by Feng Xiaogang), the star of the film, represents the average Beijinger. When Mensan’er is in jail, Liuye spends all his money to get him released. When Dengzhao’er is bullied by others, Liuye jumps to his defense.
But the selling point of the movie is the real Beijing dialect spoken by its actors. Feng Xiaogang is an internationally famous director, accomplished comedian and a native Beijinger. His manner of speaking and facial expressions are very natural.
Xu Qing, Zhang Hanyu, Liu Hua and director Guan Hu are also Beijingers who understand the local character.
While exaggerated, the film reminds most local viewers of what life was like before modernity came to the capital.