Comedy Movie

Nothing Can’t Be Undone By a HotPot

In case you’re wondering, “Nothing Can’t Be Undone By a HotPot” is not only the best movie title of the year so far, but also a no-frills Chinese whodunit about a pile of stolen cash, a human body, and a long line of dirty laundry. The cash and the body present themselves early on in this sugary Agatha Christie-style mystery, but the laundry gets unpacked at its own unhurried pace. 

A cryptic text message summons four friends, who meet in a combination mahjong/Chinese opera bar run by the group’s leader, a self-serious chiseler who calls himself Nine Cakes (Yu Qian). The assembled conspirators don’t know much about each other since they’d only previously communicated through an internet forum. They still quickly commit to what, on its face, seems like a simple heist: breaking into a soon-to-be demolished apartment and then boosting a suitcase that’s hidden behind the bathroom wall. 

With mahjong-themed nicknames like Fortune (Ailei Yu) and Chicken (Yang Mi), the group’s members struggle to remain on top of their constantly escalating scheme. Because it’s not just one suitcase, but two, and the second one contains a body, and it may not be dead yet. The bag-snatchers hunch over a hotpot table and review their options backstage at the opera.

The irregular pace and unsteady tone of “Nothing Can’t Be Undone By a Hotpot” might seem manic if you compare one scene to the next. The thrill of discovery still matters more than any given twist, doled out with enough panache to make a two-hour-plus caper fly by. That’s not nothing in a movie that’s more about yarn-spinning than wool-gathering. Each new twist inadvertently sets up the next while seemingly announcing itself with unrehearsed spontaneity. Because it’s not a random suitcase full of loot and the guy in the other bag isn’t just a mark. The trick is to let the story cook at its own pace, bubbling and overflowing with such regularity that by the time the movie’s over, the most impressive thing isn’t the integrity of the plot, but the seamlessness of its presentation. 

The frantic but easy interplay between the four principle cast members—plus the body, Director Fu (Tian Yu)—handily distinguishes “Nothing Can’t Be Undone By a Hotpot” from other recent programmers. Dialogue isn’t elevated to precious post-Tarantino levels of dramatic bombast; it’s more like unassuming links in a perpetually spun-out chain of exhaustively discussed events. The characters in this movie don’t simply talk, but also perform for and with each other. They have secrets that they need to share, and they also happen to work well together, even when they’re stepping on each other’s toes. “Nothing Can’t Be Undone By a Hotpot” has big escape room energy, is what I’m trying to say.

There are some outstanding one-liners, like when Seventy Grand (Li Jiu Xiao) sees a pile of loot and gasps: “Poverty limited my imagination.” But most of what’s charming about this movie is its characters’ use of dialogue as a frustrated negotiating tactic. I’m still laughing at an exchange from early in the movie when the group briefly considers what to do with Fu’s body. Seventy Grand suggests that they “Dismember it!” And after a short pause, Nine Cakes solemnly agrees. They then discuss how much of the body each person should cut up and who among them gets to use the big cleaver, which leads Nine Cakes to insist, “This is what I can take at most. No arms.” 

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