Review: Funny Money (Do, 2013) – CAAMFest San Jose 2014

Still from the movie Funny Money

As I mentioned before, I have the privilege of covering CAAMFest San Jose this year. The first movie I watched was the Vietnamese film Funny Money (Tiên Chùa), a romantic comedy about a young entrepreneur nicknamed “Lucky Loc” (Khuong Ngoc) whose business line is manufacturing funeral goods, specifically fake money and imitations of high-end products that can be burned at a wealthy person’s funeral. The story centers around a ripped 10,000 Vietnamese dong bill (approximately equivalent to 100 USD) that Loc keeps trying, unsuccessfully, to pass off (apparently damaged money is worthless in Vietnam). Eventually he gives it to Quyen (Van Trang), a hapless flower shop salesgirl. Quyen’s boss, already angry at her over her constant tardiness, fires her for her mistake. Losing her job ends up being only the first in a long string of unlucky events for Quyen, and she can’t help but blame her ill fate on the ripped bill. Meanwhile, Lucky Loc is suffering his own series of misfortunes, which he attributes to the loss of the ripped bill. In trying to retrieve his funny money, Loc pursues Quyen, both romantically and with the ulterior motive of regaining his lucky charm.

The film begins poorly, reminding me of the sort of cheap comedy that relies heavily on slapstick and exaggerated facial expressions–in my experience, more popular in Asian movies than in Western ones (these days, at least). The introduction of the female lead, however, breathes new life into the movie. Van is cute but not too cute, able to strike the right balance between humorous exaggeration and human emotion. Would that she could teach this skill to her male counterpart! Her interactions with her spunky, hard-headed friend Hien (Phuong Anh Leu) also amuse, albeit in a formulaic way.

Thankfully, over the course of the movie, the cheesy elements begin to fade as more serious matters come to light. The plot’s momentum and Van’s charisma carry us through the remainder of the comedy, and we arrive at the predictable ending relatively satisfied. I was relieved that there were no moments of moral dilemma as there often are in American romantic comedies, where one partner is inevitably tricking or deceiving the other, or does something horrible to him/her, and we have to watch the ritual of confession, argument, outrage, and forgiveness before we are finally rewarded with that dizzying moment of happiness: a kiss, a wedding, etc.

Funny Money stays true to its playful tone throughout, doesn’t judge or probe or look too deeply. Not a bad choice for a pick-me-up should you need one–and a light little introduction to Vietnamese cinema!

Catch Funny Money at CAAMFest in San Jose on Saturday, September 6, 2:30 pm. Tickets are $12 at the door or $10 for CAAM/SJMA members.