Little Miss Wealthy would have been a great entry in the Little Miss children’s book series by Roger and Adam Hargreaves. A profligate primadonna doesn’t understand the value of hard work until she is forced to make her own living and survive without Daddy’s help. We all learn a lesson, and the illustrations are adorable.
Driving Miss Wealthy though is a tangled Hong Kong film version of this story, resting largely on the novelty of Lau Ching-Wan posing as a Filipino chauffeur. The movie succeeds in a few surprising ways, but it’s hard work elevating it above the tortured manipulations of both the filmmakers and supporting characters.
Gigi Leung as the spoiled spendthrift Jennifer starts off the way many Hong Kong female characters do; she is insecure, puerile, and shrill. In a whining contest, she would out-wail her five year old opponents. Jennifer, as expected, is also incredibly gullible and unwise to the fact that her friends are merely using her for her money. Seeing her liberal spending habits, her father (Chow) decides he must step up his parental duties and help her achieve financial and emotional independence. His loving solution is to fake an illness and enlist the whole household and staff in the deception. Take that, Eagle Dad.
Jennifer soon finds herself slumming in Sham Shui Po, but luckily Mario, the newly hired bodyguard masquerading as a driver passing as a Filipino (Lau), is assigned to keep an eye on her. Lau, one of Hong Kong’s best actors, cobbles together a sympathetic character who is at once exasperated by and endeared to his charge’s naiveté. Together, the pair overcome a rat-infested flat, coarse neighbors (all played by Chim), and an accidental poisoning. These rough conditions merely embolden a chastened Jennifer, who begins to act her age and make a living. She uses her latent business talents, and her new BFF Mario, the Filipino Louis Koo, to peddle slimming pills to the city’s southeast Asian maids.
Both leads engender a lot of good will and sympathy and their characters manage to come off, despite their failings, as sincere, kind hearted people. This charm offensive can’t compensate for selfishness and rudeness displayed by just about everyone else though, from Jennifer’s unscrupulous friends to the corrupt hygiene officer. It’s no wonder she can’t form healthy relationships in this city.
Then there is the issue of blurred lines, the race and ethnicity version. This is not a comedy without borders, not that anyone ever accused Hong Kong of enlightened portrayals of race. One of the few things that filmmakers got right (?) was that Lau’s face wasn’t artificially darkened, a la Chrissie Chau’s faux Filipina in Nobody’s Perfect. Also Jennifer finds herself falling for Mario in what appears to be a progressive take on Hong Kong’s ethnic caste system. But it’s hard to defend a movie where a member of the majority “lowers” himself by pretending to be a different race, submitting himself to be constantly teased – by both the other characters and the audience – because of his accented Chinese. And it’s not overly sensitive to condemn lines like “You smell like a Filipino.” Not cool, folks.
Gigi Leung’s theme song: “Fiercely Love Me” 狠心愛我.
Prod: Henry Fong 方平; Derek Yee 爾冬陞
Dir: James Yuen 阮世生
Writer: James Yuen 阮世生; Law Yiu-Fai 羅耀輝; Jessica Fong 方晴
Cast: Lau Ching-Wan 劉青雲; Gigi Leung 梁詠琪; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Tats Lau 劉以達; May Law 羅冠蘭; Sophie Wong 黃小燕; Jim Chim 詹瑞文; Chow Chung 周驄; Jamie Luk 陸劍明; William Duen 段偉倫; Gao Yuan 高遠; Henry Fong 方平; Leung Wai-Yan 梁慧恩; JoJo Shum 岑寶兒
Time: 102 min
Country: Hong Kong