This quirky story blends something old with something new in pleasing fashion.
Hailing from China, Super Me is a weird and wild “what if” movie that likes to zig where you expect it to zag. It borrows its premise from a smorgasbord of pop-psychology and mystical teachings about dreams, and then runs through a surprisingly earnest exploration of how a person would live if they discovered those theories were in fact true. That exploration leads to funny moments, heartfelt moments, heartbreak, violence, and ultimately redemption. It can be a little much at times, but the film wisely knows when to switch lanes and go in another direction to keep the story from bogging down.
Super Me (2019 China, 2021 USA)
A struggling screenwriter discovers his lucrative ability to bring antiques from his dreams into the real world — but his new life soon unravels.
At the heart of Super Me is a couple ideas about the nature of dreams, dreaming, and personality. The first is Freud’s idea of people’s psyche being dominated by Id, Super-Ego, and Ego, which roughly translate into our base urges, our moral higher functions, and our rational self interest that mediates between the desires of the first two. Next, we have a classical Chinese philosophical idea that man is so capable of growth that the gods got worried and put a supernatural, subconscious constraint on us to keep us from usurping the gods. This is held up to validate the pop-psychology canard that “we only use 10% of our brains.” These concepts are all tied together by speculation that in dreams we have access to these subconscious entities and powers…and that some of us may be able to bring these powers out of the dreamworld into the real world.
These ideas range from mostly respectable to completely debunked psuedo-science. Freud has been on shaky ground for a while now, and the “10% of your brain” nonsense has been shown to be BS. The salient point, though, is that the film uses these ideas as a springboard to do some really interesting thought experiments with. The science doesn’t have to be true for a good science fiction story to say something true or interesting.
The structure of Super Me follows Sang Yu (Darren Wang) as he goes on a most excellent Freudian adventure. At first, his life is all ego…and it makes him miserable. The supernatural limiter imposed by heaven takes the form of a giant, smokey monster that beats the shit out of him every night, preventing him from sleeping or working on his past-due screenplay. We get a pathos-heavy story that uses Sang Yu’s plight to take subtle jabs about how modern life is working us to death. Depressed, desperate Sang Yu is also the persona Wang brings to life best, evoking a ton of sympathy and really investing me in the story.
Next, we see Sang Yu learn that he has agency in his dreams. This leads to an interesting segment where our hero first uses the knowledge just to return his life to normal, and then goes on a little power trip abusing his new-found abilities. It doesn’t take long for Sang Yu’s Super-Ego to lose the battle with his Id, and we get to see how he acts out when he’s able to manipulate the world with no consequences…again providing some social criticism about greed and cutthroat capitalism.
Lastly, we get those consequences Sang Yu thought he was never going to have to face, and he’s put to the decision of which version of himself he can honestly live with.
Just a Dream.
Super Me reminded me a lot of Groundhog Day. First, we have a character who has access to a power nobody else knows of, one which can make him miserable or omnipotent, and can be used for good or ill. This lets our protagonist go through a lot of self-discovery and self-abuse, and ultimately frees him to make an informed decision about who he wants to be.
It also allows the film to mix comedy, tragedy, action, romance and everything in between, on the fly. Even while he’s miserable, he has some uplifting or touching moments. Even while he’s riding high and living like a playboy, he experiences doubt, loneliness, and anguish.
It’s great for the character: even though I think Darren Wang was best suited to playing down-trodden Sang Yu, there are lots of fun and exciting moments where he seems to be having a blast playing Sang Yu as a bit of an asshole. It’s also great for the movie, allowing the directors to throw everything out there and see what sticks. Lastly, I though it was pretty great for the audience. Despite a few slow bits and some bits where Sang Yu was being a creeper, I really enjoyed Super Me and was constantly waiting to see what visual or idea the film was going to throw at me next.