Super Me is one of the latest Netflix Original movies to be released. As a general rule of thumb, I always go into something with an open-mind, but Netflix Originals have soured me many times before so I’m always warry and keep my expectations in check – which could be the reason I am less harsh on them than most. Super Me will not get the same treatment; I went in expecting something decent at least, a different take, or a competent movie; instead, I got the worst movie of the year so far, and easily one of the worst movies I’ve seen in the last couple of years. It is so mindboggling bad I just had to finish it, so I can feel okay about this article, otherwise I would have stopped halfway through and do something better like sit next to a dumpster and hang out with flies. There are so many things I want to talk about; the lazy writing, the impressively bad directing, the infuriating pacing, but I also want to make it clear that this is not “so bad its good” material. It is simply, mind-numbingly bad.
But no movie is only bad or good, so before I rip into it, I want to highlight some positive aspects. Firstly, the actors are pretty good in it; I don’t like their characters, the writing, but as far as the actors go, they’ve done okay. There is an attempt to convey emotions, Bingkun Cao as the comic relief character is clearly trying, and there seems to be a coherency and understanding with the intentions of the movie, which they capitalize on and attempt to be in-sync with. Also, the CGI work is not half-bad; its not great or a reason to watch the movie, but its not terrible. Okay, that’s it I’ve said two positive things, now let’s move on to the actual meat of the article.
Directed and written by Zhang Chong, Super Me is about struggling screenwriter Sang Yu who hasn’t slept in quite a while due to his severe nightmares. Following the advice of a man (literally listed in the credits as “old pancake vendor”) he reminds himself that he is dreaming before the nightmare kills him and he wakes up, discovering that each time he brings a piece of treasure with him in the real world, which ends his money and inspiration problems but unravels his life in unexpected ways. This could be a really interesting premise to explore a variety of themes; how are struggles can manifest even in our dreams; escapism and the dangers of it; the decreasing sanity of someone suffering from insomnia. To be fair, the movie seems genuinely disinterested in those themes and ideas. From my perspective, the movie wants to be a fast moving action adventure about a man surviving and thriving off of weird nightmares with the surreal, dream-like set-pieces filling out the majority of the movie, before some dumb twists and character reveals close out the movie; I’m okay with that, but the movie makes, what I consider to be, a cardinal sin of writing.
When I said in the intro that the movie has lazy writing, I didn’t mean it as a vague catch-all for writing that prefers a certain technique over another like exposition over visual storytelling; this movie feels like a decent first draft that no one bothered fixing. The story can be a foundation for some character drama or a good action set-piece, but instead there is no story; they never added it the drama, the conflict. This is a 100+ minute movie where the majority of the movie’s events are frictionless; struggling writer stumbles upon a way to make an absurd amount of money and he does exactly that. There is no indication he is harming anyone by doing this; he is injured at times in the dreams, but reality is pretty safe for him (until it isn’t 15 minutes before the end). When you cut through the filler, Super Me is a story about someone dreaming about making money and doing exactly that without any real conflict or consequence to it. He has a love interest, but she seems brain dead – for the most part. A dude just walks up to her empty coffee shop, buys it off her for millions, lets her stay as owner, and literally pays for people to go there, and she’s like “you must be pretty rich, huh?”. He also has a sidekick/loan-shark-that-ended-up-being-his-agent-for-this-version-of-the-story, but he’s mainly there to react with over-the-top gestures and schemes to add levity and make the protagonist seem less of a sociopath.
Let’s talk about the protagonist; he’s a struggling screenwriter who likes a girl and is scared of telling her, and he can bring stuff back from his dreams, so now he is super rich and buys himself success and love. On second thought, lets talk about how the movie portrays him instead – that is way more interesting, trust me. More specifically, the way the movie portrays him is indicative of two major struggles of the movie: Tone and pace. The movie starts with our character riding the underground looking very sleepy when all of a sudden, a shadowy figure comes rushing through the crowd and pins him to the floor; the figure proceeds to cut a hole through the floor and stick Sang’s head through it and just before his gruesome demise, he wakes up in his bed. This is a strong intro to what the movie could have been; regardless of what he achieves in the dreams, this is a nightmare no one would want to go through and would severely scar anyone into not wanting to sleep again. Then the movie proceeds to depict his life rapidly (and comically) deteriorate to the point where he needs to be given food to survive and tries to take his own life in a melodramatic sequence worthy of a Mexican afternoon soap-opera show, before transitioning into a feel-good fairy tale for the majority of the runtime, before ending (this is your spoiler warning) with everyone dead by a mobster, which turns out to be a dream that the protagonist realizes is having, to revert everything back to the melodrama that also turns out to be a dream, and then there’s something about Freud, Fin. This is, to put it lightly, a tonal clusterfuck; the initial established theme of the nightmares being surreal and horrifying is dropped in favor of robbing a bank and driving fast cars, while the melodrama of an artist on the brink of poverty without the necessary tools to have a chance at success is resolved in 10 minutes, before ending in a freaking shoot out in a mansion with all major characters dead. The frictionless and uninteresting conflicts are what kill the story, but the tone is a bizarre misfire; it’s as if you’re watching a Disney live-action remake of Cinderella where it begins with her being bullied to the brink of suicide, then makes a ton of money and saves the world, before her evil stepmom burst through the door with a Thompson submachine gun and kills everyone. I can see how you get to this version of the story (I am an amateur writer myself and I’ve written or tried to write many worst things than this), but the tonal choices are bewildering to me.
Also, I know that I’m speaking very broadly – given that I’ve already warned for spoilers – but this is where the last topic of the article comes into play. The pacing is awful in a unique way; for all the problems the writing has and the frustrating tonal choices create on top of that, there is still room to create a mediocre time-waster. Pacing makes sure that the movie is a slog to get through, because despite the movie having very few things to get through and a lot of room for some creativity to burst in, it is one of the slowest feeling movies I’ve seen for a long time. This is a movie that takes a quarter of its runtime to start, but 5 minutes later the protagonist is already a billionaire. They show a few dream sequences that are montages with rock music to show him acquiring more wealth and then it focuses on the awful romance and a few tangents that are just dumb (like building a skyscraper that is twice as tall as the highest one to house poor people in, which seems like a Tower of Babel metaphor, but is really an excuse to make the protagonist the most humanitarian and to have a scene with him and his weird girlfriend in front of fireworks), for more than 2 quarters of the runtime. Then, the ending is a fast moving, twist after twist, thing that does more in 10 minutes than everything else in the movie, but also doesn’t really matter because it was all a dream within a dream, where the protagonist turns out to be the monster in the dream and the old guy making pancakes has scars similar to Sang’s dream scars, which leads to Sang waking up again; and here we thought Tenet was up its own ass. In between all of these mental plot points and characters, there is so much opportunity for a few surreal set-pieces or some physics-defying action, but it is so poorly directed that the action is the worst part (simply because it is boring and uninteresting in the ways it fails) and it is more interested in weird-dance routines and Sang laughing maniacally as he steals shit from his dreams.
In all honesty, I am not mad when I watch bad movies and will do my best at giving anything its fair shot and critique it with an open mind; I’m not calling this a review, because I checked out half-way through and only watched it to the end because I felt that would be appropriate since I wanted to write this article. Maybe the ending makes sense if I had paid closer attention to the psychology references in the beginning (they caught my attention as a bachelor of sociology and psychology); maybe the stolen artifacts taken from real places are actually real and the protagonist is a literal thief (this is something he discusses at some point). Regardless, I want to end with this: After suffering through this movie and its awkward romance, the movie decides to lead into the ending with a dream sequence that has the nightmare creature exhausted wearing a belt of champions. As the protagonist takes it from him, the creature scratches his chest; 5 minutes later he has finally won his lover’s heart and just about as he is going to confess it, he feels a pain in his chest. Not before long, a flashback shows us that exact moment again; it wasn’t the sudden reveal that his injuries from his dreams are now actually happening and that is why the ending is occurring; it isn’t the out of nowhere mobster killing everyone for reasons. What actually made me groan was that flashback, because it didn’t come immediately and I thought that I could point to one detail they got right, but then they show it anyway (twice). If you want to watch a good Asian action movie from Netflix, watch Space Sweepers; if you want to watch a compelling thriller about insomnia watch The Machinist. I would recommend watching almost anything else over this; I would have stopped watching if I wasn’t determined to write this (and still probably should have stopped watching) and the last time I didn’t finish a movie was Slender Man – which was the first movie I didn’t finish for years. After this article, I realized that the last sentence should not still be true. It should have been Super Me the movie that forced me to stop halfway most recently and I regret that it is not.