Time magazine's November 10, 2011 article titled “The ChIndian Century, ” deals with the prospect that the combined power of China and India can be a spearhead of global growth in the coming decades. The article starts with an anecdote that says the 2009 Bollywood flick, 3 Idiots, was well-received by a Chinese audience in Hong Kong:

... the majority of viewers, it seemed to me, got the universal moral about breaking free from social straitjackets. They laughed when they were meant to, and didn't when they weren't. While the foreign 3 Idiots was a box-office monster, 1911, a China-backed war docudrama starring hometown celebrity Jackie Chan, bombed. Go figure: India 1, China 0.

I don’t understand the meaning of the ending line. I understand that 1911 was when the revolution to overthrow the monarchy in China took place, and 1911 is the name of a war docudrama. Is 3 Idiots a war docudrama? What does “... bombed. Go figure: India 1, China 0” mean? It sounds like a cipher to me. Can somebody spell out or decode the sentence for me?

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    What is in the OP about the English language, I wonder.
    – Kris
    Feb 1, 2012 at 4:58
  • @Kris. My question was about (1) what ‘bombed’ and “Go figure" mean here, and (2) whether both of them are standard or frequently-used expressions as English language? Feb 1, 2012 at 7:34

3 Answers 3


To bomb is slang for "to fail". Since this article is on documentaries about war and revolution, bombed is probably a pun as well. I would paraphrase your line as follows:

There is a version of the dramatic war documentary 3 Idiots that is meant for a non-Indian audience (foreign), and it sold very well (box-office monster); but the Chinese docu-drama named 1911, which featured Chinese celebrity Jackie Chan, failed (i.e. few tickets were sold: it bombed). If this were a sports match, the score would be India 1, China 0 (i.e. while the Indian film sold very well outside India, the Chinese one did not sell well outside China).

Go figure means something like "how do you explain this?" or "this is not what you'd expect", to indicate mild surprise, as Rob says.

  • I think the normal meaning of "Go figure" is pretty much what Cerberus says - in this context I'd paraphrase it as an ironic "Work it out for yourself" (i.e. - "It's obvious!"). The only reason we associate the expression with "surprise" is because the conclusion itself may be unexpected. Which doesn't apply in this case, because obviously India has a far better track record than China of both domestic and international success in film-making. It's not remarkable that this extends to docudramas. Feb 1, 2012 at 2:52
  • @FumbleFingers: Yeah, to be honest it was harder than I expected to come up with an explanation of go figure that is generally true while still applying to this quotation. I'll leave it to you to edit a satisfying definition into my answer. Feb 1, 2012 at 3:01
  • I was just disagreeing with Robusto's definition - but it seems while I was writing it, he deleted his comment, whereas you've edited your answer to reflect his position. So you probably don't want me to "edit a satisfying definition into the answer" (I'd just reverse all your edits! :) Feb 1, 2012 at 3:08
  • @FumbleFingers: Well, actually I wouldn't mind, since I don't have a definite opinion on which explanation is best... Feb 1, 2012 at 3:23
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    @FumbleFingers: Yeah, well, perhaps it could be explained by layers or irony upon irony. Go figure. Feb 1, 2012 at 4:18

3 Idiots and 1911 are the titles of the films being discussed, one Indian and one Chinese. The writer wishes to use it as an example of the larger competition between India and China.

While the Indian film was a huge success, a Chinese-backed film starring a hometown celebrity was a huge failure. So there is the score: India 1, China 0.


1911 is also the name of a movie.

EDIT: To be explicit:

The foreign movie 3 Idiots was a box office monster. 1911 was a China-backed war docudrama starring hometown celebrity Jackie Chan. 1911 bombed.

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