Capsule Review: YOLO 热辣滚烫 (2024) – Jia Ling Excels in a Familiar but Entertaining and Poignant Comedy-Drama

Already a huge hit in China during the Lunar New Year holiday, YOLO has since amassed over 3 billion RMB so far. The hit comedy-drama is based on the 2014 Japanese sports drama, 100 Yen Love and unlike the surprisingly dark and offbeat indie-movie style of the original, Jia Ling — who stars, directs and serves as one of the co-writers — approaches the remake with a more mainstream-friendly appeal.

The story follows Du Leying (Jia Ling), a 32-year-old deadbeat woman who prefers to spend most of the time sleeping and eating than helping out her family business in the convenience store. Her mum (Zhao Haiyan) and dad (Zhang Qi) are already separated and she has a younger sister, Du Ledan (Zhang Xiaofei), a divorced mum with a little daughter.

We first see Leying reluctantly accepting a recorded interview from her cousin, Doudou (Yang Zi) for an upcoming reality TV show. But she’s barely cooperative and feels uncomfortable about the whole thing.

Long story short, Leying ends up moving out of the apartment after an argument with her sister over an inheritance. She manages to find a place to stay and works as a waitress at a BBQ restaurant. One night, after an awkward encounter with a boxing trainer named Hao Kun (Lei Jiayin), they subsequently get to know each other more.

The first half of the movie is largely devoted to a comedy that is thankfully devoid of the broad hijinks typically seen in a Chinese movie. The humour mostly hits the mark and as the movie progresses, it gets serious with some dramatic and heartfelt moments of Leying’s life facing depression, disappointment and humiliation.

Although the movie runs a little over two hours long, the story doesn’t overstay its welcome, thanks to its consistent pace and interesting, yet involving character arc led by Jia Ling’s earnest and sympathetic performance as Du Leying. The highlight, of course, is her much-publicised physical transformation from an obese, unemployed slacker to a confident and hardworking woman determined to improve her life. There are no special effects here, only blood, sweat and tears that go into Jia Ling’s remarkable weight loss from approximately 105 kg to over 50 kg as she undergoes gruelling training to get in shape as a boxer.

It’s worth noting that YOLO isn’t mainly a boxing movie since it’s more of a movie about a woman’s journey slowly but surely overcoming her low self-esteem after several turn of events prompting her to take action. I enjoy the gradual build-up leading to Jia Ling’s determination to train as hard as humanly possible, complete with a Rocky-like training montage with Bill Conti’s famous theme music playing in the background.

Themes about perseverance and self-love are nothing new but they remain relatable in YOLO. Best of all, Jia Ling does an overall good job handling the otherwise familiar subject matter without resorting to mawkish sentimentality. The movie also benefits from solid supporting turns all around. Do remember to stick around for the outtakes during the end credits, showcasing Jia Ling’s intense training that reportedly took over a year to accomplish her desired weight of a boxer.