Hong Kong doesn’t borrow from Hollywood often, but when it does, the result is usually middling (e.g. What Women Want, Mr. and Mrs. Incredible). So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Miss Congeniality-inspired Beauty on Duty! is another unexceptional effort. Although it starts off mildly funny, it descends into Wong Jing’s usual bag of sophomoric gags, which this time includes itching powder, silicone breast pads, and crocodile sex. Clearly not the city’s most ambitious filmmaker.
For this caper, Wong enlists Charlene Choi as Chung Oi-Fong, the titular beauty on duty. The fresh faced officer helps capture the notorious
Lam Suet Fatty. He is willing to testify against the real bad guy Wong Jing Brother Tin but only if the police protects his daughter June (Maggie Li) in the upcoming Miss Asia Youth Beauty Pageant. Naturally this requires the work of an entire team of officers. Not only does Fong ingratiate herself into the contestant pool, the feared Iron Mary (Sandra Ng) dons the disguise of beauty mistress, Inspector Luk (Lu Yi) and Flying Tigers recruit Donnie Yuen (Donnie Yen’s Ip Man collaborator Louis Fan) masquerade as a gay image consultant and make up artist, and Fong’s dad Officer Indiana Chung (Hui Siu-Hung) pretends to be…her dad. Meanwhile, Brother Tin has entered his own leggy assassin (Samantha Ko) into the contest to ensure that Fatty won’t squeal.
Obviously, this is not the makings of a cinematic classic, nor is it engaging enough to warrant the superfluous exclamation point in the film’s title. The ending is predetermined and there’s little sustenance for the journey, even with an understated comedic turn by Louis Fan. Nevertheless Hong Kong is ripe for a satire on beauty pageants. Unlike Miss Congeniality’s America, where such contests have largely disappeared from the national scene, these annual parades continue to generate healthy press coverage in Hong Kong. Their relevance is largely driven by TVB, the free-to-air monopoly that sponsors and broadcasts several pageants (including the recently suspended Mr. Hong Kong), and then contracts many of the participants for acting and hosting gigs. Wong’s send-up of controversial TVB general manager Stephen Chan in the form of Stephen Shum (Jim Chim, relishing the role) is one of the more entertaining aspects of this movie, but there is a manipulative quality about these affairs that he entirely sidesteps. No one imagines that these are “scholarship programs,” and it is worth acknowledging the outsized influence they have on the roles offered to women and the actresses cast to play them.
This partly accounts for Charlene Choi’s problematic presence. She spent the naughts playing the effervescent girl next door and revisits the act here, with Sir Indiana trying to shield his delicate daughter from the dangers of police work. Of course, Choi is closing in on three decades and does not need to recycle the My Wife is 18 routine. If she can handle a marriage, and divorce (to Ronald Cheng) as the public discovered days before the movie’s release, and if she can maintain a low-key relationship with her co-star and current partner William Chan, then she can portray an independent, mature undercover officer. Something along the lines of Miriam Yeung’s comedic yet seasoned Fong Lai-Kuen of Love Undercover would be a welcome alternative for both Choi and the audience.
Prod: Catherine Hun Ga-Jan
Dir: Wong Jing 王晶
Writer: Wong Jing 王晶
Cast: Charlene Choi Cheuk-Yin 蔡卓妍; Sandra Ng Kwun-Yu 吳君如; Louis Fan Siu-Wong 樊少皇; Lu Yi 陸毅; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Xie Na 謝娜; Jim Chim Sui-Man 詹瑞文; Maggie Li Man-Kwan 李曼筠; William Chan Wai-Ting 陳偉霆; Samantha Ko Hoi-Ning 高海寧; Cheung Tat-Ming 張達明; Sammy Leung 森美; Lam Suet 林雪; Wong Jing 王晶; Kingdom Yuen King-Tan 苑瓊丹; Gregory Wong Chung-Yiu 王宗堯; Mok Mei-Lam 莫美林
Time: 97 min