NAMIYA (2017) review


Mere months after the Japanese adaptation of Keigo Higashino’s best-selling novel The Miracles of the Namiya General Store, comes a Chinese adaptation directed by Han Jie, with input from popular novelist, blogger and director Han Han. Three orphans, Xiaobo (Karry Wang), Tong Tong (Dilraba Dilmurat) and Jie (Dong Zi Jian) burglarize a rich woman’s house on new year’s eve, then run away in her car. They decide to lay low in an abandoned general store, but strange things start happening: a letter is dropped in an old letterbox at the front of the shop, and seems to have been written by someone more than twenty years before. The orphans decide to answer it, and get an almost immediate, handwritten answer through the same letterbox, once again apparently from the past. They learn that the store used to belong to a kind old man (Jackie Chan) who would impart wise advice to anonymous people in need through letters dropped in front and behind the store.

Naturally transposing the plot to China, with some necessary adjustments in terms of nostalgic chronology (the letters transport us back to the the nineties, whereas the novel and Japanese adaptation went to the eighties), Namiya faces an even steeper hurdle than its Japanese predecessor, having to cram several intersecting storylines into 105 minutes – where Ryuichi Hiroki’s film took 130 minutes. Its sense of magic has a slightly muddled feel to it, introducing its supernatural elements in such a matter-of-fact way – and so quickly accepted by its protagonists – that it’s hard to believe it is supposed to take place in the “real” world. And yet it does take place in the real world, as it attempts to evoke a sense of nostalgia – not far removed from Han Han’s own Duckweed – that still paints the present in a hopeful light.

The aforementioned intersecting storylines don’t fare equally: one with Lee Hong Chi as a musician with frustrated ambitions, an affecting Cheng Taishen as his demanding father, and the promising Li Meng as his sister, is efficiently bittersweet, but another is weighed down by the usual “insufferable kid we’re supposed to sympathize with” syndrome, a cringe-worthy CGI-ed accident scene and some soap-level acting from Qin Hao. Still, this is a charming film through and through, its simple, uplifting spirit best embodied by Jackie Chan’s warm central performance as the store owner. And it has a final twist (which of course won’t be one for those who read the book) on the nature of the store’s magic, that has a haunting quality to it. Dilraba Dilmurat, Karry Wang and Dong Zi Jian, though front and center on the film’s marketing, are merely used as bookends, but their chemistry ensures that the bookends hold firm.

Long Story Short: Somewhat muddled in its sense of magic and nostalgia, yet often charming, Namiya benefits from being anchored in a warm and self-effacing performance by Jackie Chan. **1/2

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