Recently, Hong Kong’s go-to television station, TVB, has had a decent track record delivering satisfying Chinese New Year’s fare. This effort doesn’t quite live up to the lofty expectations set by its predecessors, like 72 Tenants of Prosperity and the 2011 installment of I Love Hong Kong, but still manages to tick off the appropriate boxes. There are sophomoric slapstick gags, local jokes for those in the know, a bit of song and dance, conspicuous product placement. The network also imports a few big name actors to balance out the surfeit of TVB extras. These movies are meant to be a paean to the common folk, the ones most likely to fill the seats, and a bevy of artistic contributors have scraped together a simple plot that churns up warm feelings but does not tread too heavily on the intellect.
It’s a timeless Hong Kong tale of the small potatoes getting mashed by villainous property developers. Sung Chi-Hung (Alan Tam) is the poorly coiffed but genial owner of a neighborhood dim sum restaurant. His wife Yeung Yeung (Veronica Yip) thinks he’s a little too charitable though and that he considers the needs of his employees and customers before those of his family.
On Chinese New Year’s Eve, she rallies her sons and daughters-in-law to trick Chi-Hung into selling the restaurant, which seems like a way to earn bad karma for at least a year or two. When he still refuses to sell, they desert him in a huff. Feeling neglected and inadequate, he decides to throw himself off the roof. He is saved just in time by an angel in the form of Eric Tsang (TVB archangel in real life), who guides Chi-Hung into the past in a low-budget Christmas Carol sort of way. Our desperate hero begins to recall the decisions that led him to his current predicament.
The movie goes into an extended flashback and stays there until the last 15 minutes or so, which is to say the audience sees a lot more TVB actors than Alan Tam and Veronica Yip. Bosco Wong and Kate Tsui fill in as the younger 1970s versions of Chi-Hung and Yeung Yeung, whose initial pairing finds resistance with a few people. Her wealthy father (Hui Siu-Hung) objects to his daughter dating a restaurant lackey while Chi-Hung’s insincere friend Ha Shek-Sam (Michael Tse) wants Yeung Yeung for himself. Of course true love endures, despite their machinations. What doesn’t run so smoothly is the restaurant, which constantly faces the threat of going under. Chi-Hung’s honesty and/or naïveté saves the employees and owner (Stanley Fung), but increasingly at the cost of his growing family’s needs and comfort.
The movie crescendos to an uplifting finale but is longer on nostalgia and shorter on humor than TVB’s previous holiday films. The warm 1970s sheen of the piece does not enlighten on the past or present but is used to bolster the audience’s Hong Kong sentiment. It is a giant cinematic trinket displayed to reassert the city’s identity. And indeed there is some not-so-subtle identity politics when the restaurant changes owners; everyone is assured that nothing will change in 50 years, and we know how that’s working out.
Mostly, the mood is dampened because the film is just not particularly showy or fun. And because a blackfaced character is still being played for laughs in 2013. The musical numbers are perfunctory and put the stylized set to waste. Also, the premise of a family turning against itself is a bit mean spirited, regardless of the outcome. There are a few entertaining performances. This isn’t the stuff of drama school, but Michael Tse and Joyce Cheng as Shek-Sam’s accidental love interest make an energetic pair. Some would call it overacting, which it is, but one can indulge during this time of year.
Prod: Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Peter Tsi 戚家基
Dir: Chung Shu-Kai 鍾澍佳
Writer: Peter Tsi 戚家基; Kwok Kin-Lok 郭建樂; Yan Pak-Wing 甄柏榮; Chiu Sin-Hang 趙善恆
Cast: Bosco Wong 黃宗澤; Michael Tse 謝天華; Kate Tsui 徐子珊 Joyce Cheng 鄭欣宜; Alan Tam 譚詠麟; Nats Chan 陳百祥; Veronica Yip 葉玉卿; Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Stanley Fung 馮淬帆; Wong Cho-Lam 王祖藍; Jacqueline Chong 莊思敏; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Alfred Cheung 張堅庭; Natalie Meng 孟瑤; Alvina Kong 江欣燕; Evergreen Mak 麥長青; Koo Ming-Wah 古明華; Tenky Tin 田啟文; Otto Wong 王志安; Eddie Pang 彭懷安; Samantha Ko 高海寧; Pierre Ngo 敖嘉年; Liu Fan 魯芬; Koni Lui 呂慧儀; 6 Wing 陸永; Siu Yam-Yam 邵音音; Gill Mohindepaul Singh 喬寶寶; Terence Tsui 小肥; Joe Junior
Time: 110 min
Country: Hong Kong