Alex Fong Lik-Sun

Give Them a Chance (給他們一個機會)

give them a chance

Give Them a Chance is bookeded by megastar Andy Lau. The opening sets up the Heavenly King of Cantopop as a benevolent Hong Kong entertainment deity who, grateful for all the opportunities and behind-the-scenes support through the years, wishes to bestow the same to others so that they can find success in the industry. Fast forward 95 minutes and there’s Andy, living out his dream of helping people make it big. The credits roll to footage from his 2001 concert featuring a group of background dancers shaking it like there’s no tomorrow. And they are the real stars of this movie.

The film gets an A for effort, not for Andy Lau’s altruism. It suffices as the feel good, based on a true story movie of the week, and though it occasionally tries to push those boundaries a little too far, it succeeds in corralling its audience’s sympathy towards the talented lower class teens who want a little more out of the life they’re dealt.

Despite their break dancing ambitions, the kids face one dead end after another. They’re hardly ace students, and the one healthy interest they have gets thwarted by adults who think they’re up to no good. Even the city won’t give them a break. During an outdoor performance, a cop tells them in the politest terms to shove off because wealthy tourists at a nearby hotel have complained about the noise, and we know who takes priority there.

Luckily there are some people who see potential in Hong Kong’s youth, including aspiring dancer turned action director Sam (Andy Hui) and injured former dancer Jack (Osman Hung), a pair of quarrelling brothers who try to put aside their grudges for the greater good and build a practice studio. Their story threads together the patchwork of teens who flock to the new dance haven. Brothers Durian and Kenny, each with his own medical issue, vie for the attention of longtime friend Money, who develops feelings for Jim, who is also on shaky terms with his older brother.

The amount of teen angst can be a little overpowering and is not helped by some of the actors, particularly Andy Lau’s goddaughter Ellis Tang who babbles like a preschooler. Howard Kwok, on the other hand, is very affecting as Kenny despite not saying anything. This could also have been a more inspiring and artistically successful film with stronger dance sequences and better music, but this was never supposed to be Step Up. Instead, the movie works from ground up and, like the kids, doesn’t have the package or polish of other commercial films. This doesn’t necessarily make it better but it does make it more satisfying to watch.

Released: 2003
Prod: Sam Wong 黃明昇, Ng Kin-Hung 伍健雄
Dir: Herman Yau 邱禮濤
Writer: Yeung Yee-Shan 楊漪珊; Herman Yau 邱禮濤
Cast: Andy Hui 許志安; Ellis Tang 鄧肇欣; Johnathan Cheung 張穎康; Walter Wong 黃家倫; Howard Kwok 郭浩東; Osman Hung 洪智傑; Eddie Pang 彭懷安; Anna Yau 丘凱敏; Jason Wong 黃益平; Joe Cheung 張同祖; Liu Kai-Chi 廖啟智; Anthony Wong 黃秋生; Mark Lui 雷頌德; Alex Fong Lik-Sun 方力申; Ronald Cheng 鄭中基; Stephanie Che 車婉婉; Wayne Lai 黎耀祥; Amanda Lee 李蕙敏; Andy Lau 劉德華
Time: 98 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

McDull, the Alumni (春田花花同學會)

mcdull the alumni

“Magnificently unprepared for the long littleness of life,” reads a line from Alan Bennett’s award winning play The History Boys. The sentiment applies to a good many people and situations, though usually not to a Chinese New Year film and not to one starring a cartoon pig. The festive comedies are better known for riotous gags and irreverent humor than for evoking existential angst. But like previous movies in the McDull franchise, this one couches sober self-reflection in the whimsy of Alice Mak’s animation.

The little porker’s third big screen outing still bears some trademarks of a New Year’s film. There are cameos aplenty and it is rich in local flavor. A drinking game with mentions of BBQ pork rice would end badly. It’s also fun and funny, something you can watch with the kids. Chances are, you’ll be more offended by the toilet humor than they are. And that’s pretty much the dividing line for the film’s audience. I don’t mean that the movie separates those who have a preoccupation with the call of nature with those who do not, but I suspect that children are watching an entirely different film than adults.

McDull, the Alumni has no discernable plot. The nearest thing to one is a hostage crisis on Chinese New Year’s Eve and the upcoming almost-50th anniversary of the Springfield Blossom Kindergarten. Since the movie is told in vignettes, the story allows for gags aplenty, many of which involve food. Diners at the famous Jumbo floating restaurant in Aberdeen stuff themselves silly and make unintelligible sounds while trying to order more grub, and a hungry office worker (Jaycee Chan) uses the heat generated by his computer to poach an egg.

Beneath the silliness, however, lies a bittersweet message about success, particularly a Hong Kong brand of it that includes a flashy title and a feeling of self-importance. Springfield’s hot pot reunion dinner gives the principal (Anthony Wong) and teacher Miss Chan (The Pancakes) cause to teach the students about becoming pillars of society. At the same time, one of the school’s graduates, May (Zhou Bichang, aka Bibi Chow), reflects on her life choices when she is taken hostage.

The children, rather farm animals’, hopes and candid observations are amusing, but their innocence also disguises piercing truths. A recent graduate (Isabella Leong) rushes to a BBQ shop hoping to be be hired as a rice scooper. What the boss (Christopher Doyle) really needs is a chicken chopper, and her miscalculation of the job market nearly costs her the job. Poor McDull, never the brightest pig on the block, meanwhile decides he wants to be an OL (office lady) when he grows up because he doesn’t have to wear pants. He finds himself in a bind when he decides he also wants to eat shark fin soup. He briefly considers a future as a doctor or lawyer since they can always afford the delicacy.

McDull, the Alumni is not as strong as the first two films, but it leaves you with the same mix of melancholy and tempered optimism. Mixing the animation with live action turns out to be hit and miss. The cavalcade of stars does distract and comes off as gimmicky, but Zhou, winner of the Mainland’s Super Girl singing contest and the least glamorous and famous of the actors, captures the film’s tone the best. She isn’t very expressive but has a shy, bewildered look that is right for the part, conveying the overwhelming feeling of a woman who has left the pastels and security of youth for good.

“Fing Fing吓” by The Pancakes (“We have to work OT because we didn’t really work before 6 o’clock…..”):

Released: 2006
Prod: Peter Chan 陳可辛; Jojo Hui 許月珍; Brian Tse 謝立文
Dir: Samson Chiu 趙良駿
Writer: Brian Tse 謝立文
Cast: Ronald Cheng 鄭中基; Anthony Wong 黃秋生; Gigi Leung 梁詠琪; Sandra Ng 吳君如; Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Bibi Chow 周筆暢Chen Bolin 陳柏霖; Josie Ho 何超儀; Kelly Chen 陳慧琳; Jaycee Chan 房祖名Shawn Yue 余文樂Miki Yeung 楊愛瑾Jan Lamb 林海峰Francis Ng 吳鎮宇; Cheung Tat-Ming 張達明; Nicholas Tse 謝霆鋒Michael Miu 苗僑偉; Tats Lau 劉以達Alex Fong Lik-Sun 方力申Andrew Lin 連凱Daniel Wu 吳彥祖Terence Yin 尹子維Conroy Chan 陳子聰Isabella Leong 梁洛施Jim Chim 詹瑞文; Teresa Fu 傅穎Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Wayne Lai 黎耀祥; Eddie Cheung 張兆輝Yip Wing-Sze 葉詠詩; Hong Kong Sinfonietta; Wong Yau-Nam 黃又南Christopher Doyle 杜可風; Chet Lam 林一峰; John Shum 岑建勳; Kary Ng 吳雨霏; Jane Zhang 張靚穎
Time: 91 min
Lang: Cantonese, some English
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

Love is Not All Around (十分愛)

love is not all around

In one of the more outlandish scenes in this movie, the main character Bo (Stephy Tang) accidentally squirts detergent into her eyes, necessitating a trip to the emergency room. As she is screaming bloody murder, her friend tells her to quiet down, to which Bo responds, “If I’m not louder, no one will hear me,” pretty much summing up the portrayal of women in Hong Kong film and in Patrick Kong films in particular. Bo, like many of her counterparts, is adept at pouting, whining, and wailing, anything to keep the attention on herself. Only after she’s thrown a tantrum and succeeded in emotionally isolating herself does she have stirrings of remorse.

It’s a wonder then how anyone can tolerate her and not at all surprising when one relationship after another falls away. She has a cynical outlook on love to start with, viewing it as nothing more than a game. On the rare occasion she does develop a mild attachment, she can just as easily swap one guy for another when things turn sour. More troublesome is her relationship with her best friend, Ching Ching (Linda Chung), whose marriage to Wing (Sammy Leung) opens the movie. When Bo finds out that Wing is having an affair with a mutual friend, she keeps the sweet and innocent Ching Ching in the dark. She chooses instead to chastise and nag Wing when they are alone, which is probably not what you want your best friend and cheating husband to do.

By movie’s end, Bo has a lot to atone for, but she’s burned so many bridges that a genuine sorry may not be enough. She revisits Ryan (Alex Fong), one of her 50+ exes, and finds herself developing feelings for him. You know this may be something real because she actually feels bad for using him. At the same time, she is keen on Hong Kong’s youngest doctor, Joe (Hins Cheung), from the earlier detergent episode. Does she make the right choice in the end?

It’s a little more complicated than that, and not because love is that way. Director-writer Kong seems to think about romance in the same way one thinks about a churlish ex. In this and many other films, everyone gets played; it’s just a matter of degree. But it’s hard to trust such characters, however likeable or unlikeable they may be, when their primary function is to prove a point. Set aside for a moment that the acting is sub-par. No amount of drama training can save a film that is so dependent on gimmicks. Kong isn’t interested in reality-based nuance. His characters rarely have a sense of the accidental or the foolish that gnaw at real relationships until they snap or fray. Instead, he is more invested in looking clever by intersecting so many stories so that he can spring a surprise and tightly wound ending, one that comes with a giant billboard proclaiming some truth about love. And in this case, he simply wants to say that “love is not all around.” Shame.

“Powerless” (無能為力) – by Hins Cheung.

“Two Worlds” (兩個世界) – by Terry Wu.

Released: 2007
Prod: Paco Wong 黃柏高
Dir: Patrick Kong 葉念琛
Writer: Patrick Kong 葉念琛
Cast: Stephy Tang 鄧麗欣; Alex Fong 方力申; Linda Chung 鍾嘉欣; Hins Cheung 張敬軒; Terry Wu 胡清藍; Miki Yeung 楊愛瑾; Sammy Leung 森美; Christy Wong 王一冰; Kwan Ho-Yeung 關浩揚; Leung Ho-Gai 梁浩楷; Cindy Lee 李思雅; Angela Au 區文詩; Kary Ng 吳雨霏; Philip Ng 伍允龍; William Chow 周子濠; Harriet Yeung 楊詩敏; Terence Tsui 徐志雄; Mimi Chu 朱咪咪
Time: 101 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014