Starring: Ai Lun, Ma Li, Shen Teng
Director: Song Yang, Zhang Chiyu
Running Time: 100 mins
Never Say Die is a Chinese film about a former elite kickboxer and a journalist that exposed his involvement in fixed fights who suddenly switch bodies one night, but must push on to complete the objective of winning the championship from the ruthless titleholder.
This film really surprised me. Yes, it may have one of the most ludicrous and cheesy premises in that of the body swap, but what’s great about Never Say Die is how little that actually matters over the course of the story. Instead, it’s a very funny, high-energy action-crime movie blended with an homage to Rocky, complete with two great lead performances and strong comedy throughout, making the film an absolute heap of fun to watch from beginning to end.
So, much like the film itself, let’s quickly get the body swap bit over and done with. It’s a premise that’s used far more in Chinese films than in Hollywood, so that explains to a degree why the film doesn’t make all that big a deal of it. The first act is fairly typical, as the man and the woman who swap lives find themselves bickering and arguing as they try to find a way to switch back, as well as getting into all sorts of mishaps because of their situation.
That part of the film is light-hearted enough to be enjoyable, and with some well-written humour, it’s fairly funny too, however it doesn’t offer anything particularly interesting that you haven’t seen before.
However, the end of the first act signals a big shift in the movie’s intentions, as you realise that the body swap is there as an entertaining plot device to drive the action/crime/sport side of the story. With each of the pair now experiencing the world as a different person, they’re soon opened up to each other’s world, and grow ever closer. That inevitably leads to a predictable romance, but what it also does is strengthen their resolve in fighting the bad guys.
As a result, the rest of the movie plays out pretty much like Rocky, albeit given that distinctly Chinese blend with manic and loud comedy, as well as a sequence training at a bizarre martial arts house in the mountains, as the two strive to bring down the bad guys by winning the championship belt, which also leaves the finale a genuinely exciting one as well.
Above all, the story wouldn’t quite work so well if the film wasn’t so funny. There’s great humour throughout here, ranging from the awkward relationship between the two leads, to all sorts of very silly yet genuinely funny slapstick and physical comedy, all of which made the film so much more fun to watch than a typical body swap/sports movie.
What’s more is that comedy is furthered brilliantly by some great performances. Ai Lun and Ma Li are huge fun in the two lead roles, pulling off the body swap premise surprisingly convincingly, while also bringing great humour to the table with their fantastic comedic ability. Supported by all sorts of bizarre yet equally entertaining co-stars, the film’s cast is a great surprise, and fits in brilliantly with that distinctly manic comedy that makes this film such a laugh.
Overall, I had a lot of fun with Never Say Die. It’s not a serious film, nor is it the most original, but it’s a really funny, light-hearted and simply enjoyable watch from start to finish that takes a cheesy body swap premise that rarely ever works well, and turns it into something that’s an absolute joy, which is why I’m giving it a 7.7.