Chin Kar-Lok

It Had To Be You (後備甜心)

it had to be you

It doesn’t have to be this movie. There are others out there. Just keep looking. You’ll find the right one. Don’t settle. Really, it’s not you; it’s this movie. I don’t mean to be too harsh; It Had to Be You is not awful, but you’re better cozying up with another film, one that has genuine laughs and warmth. In comparison, this one takes a mildly interesting rom-com plot and turns it into a laborious grind.

Like much of the movie, the main characters aren’t unagreeable so much as they are dull. Jack (Ekin Cheng) and Jill (Karena Lam) work together at an upscale eatery, he as a chef and she as a hostess. Their initial encounter doesn’t go so well, which of course means they’re perfect for each other. They both also happen to be the third wheel in a relationship and hold out hope that their partners will come around.

Lam is supposed to glow as Jill, and her character possesses a few idiosyncrasies that are blatant attempts to be endearing. She takes her imaginary dog for walks, a scene that in ordinary life would have you think twice about starting a relationship. But filmmakers would rather you see how adorable she is and how wrong her boyfriend (Hu Bing) is to string her along. Jack shows his fun, sensitive side by playing along with the dog trick, so that makes two completely likable and inoffensive characters.

The problem is that none of this draws you closer to them. Jill adds a deeper dimension to her otherwise lifeless personality when she shares scenes with her deaf mother (Kiki Sheung), but little else lights up the movie as it trudges towards its foregone conclusion. Jack and Jill’s partners don’t stand out in any way and remain vague figures in spite of attempts to draw them out. Other supporting actors, such as Benz Hui as Jack’s cousin and Eric Tsang as another co-worker, also fail to contribute energy to this sluggish picture. When Tsang fades so far into the background, you know the movie is barely limping by.

“I’m Willing” (我願意) by Faye Wong:

Released: 2005
Prod: Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Claudie Chung 鍾珍
Dir: Maurice Li 李明文; Andrew Loo 盧弘軒
Writer: Theresa Tang 鄧潔明
Cast: Karena Lam 林嘉欣; Ekin Cheng 鄭伊健; Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Hu Bing 胡兵; Bobo Chan 陳文媛; Nicola Cheung 張燊悅; Yan Ng 吳日言; Derek Tsang 曾國祥; Fire Lee 李家榮; Lui Kit 呂潔; Crystal Tin 田蕊妮; Chin Kar-Lok 錢嘉樂; Hayama Hiro葉山豪; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Kiki Sheung 商天娥
Time: 93 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2015

Crazy N’ the City (神經俠侶)

crazy n the city

Chris, a seasoned beat officer, explains to his new partner on her first day, “Wanchai is a chaotic district. There’s lots of traffic, lots of people, and lots of mentally ill.” Somewhat taken aback, she says that it would be dangerous if they all went crazy, to which he replies, “When I get mad it will be even more dangerous. I can pull out my gun and shoot everyone.”

Lest anyone think that Hong Kong police officers are trigger happy, hypothetical talk about firing a weapon generally stays that way. That’s not always the case when it comes to Hong Kong movies where bullet ballets are a staple. Crazy N’ the City is a vast departure from the dark and highly stylized gangs and guns mayhem though and much of the pedestrian action takes place under sunny skies.

The natural light illuminates the city and characters in a way that softens their harsh edges. Chris (Eason Chan) has grown dejected over the years and is skeptical when rookie Tak Nam (Joey Yung), or Manly, bursts into the department with the enthusiasm a superhero’s sidekick. She attacks her first case, a suspected cat poisoning, with gusto but as the day wears on, finds that her partner has a more apathetic approach to the job.

The movie has a similar unhurried feel, and the camera lingers around the two as they encounter the ordinary and uneventful. Manly helps an old lady push her trolley full of cardboard up a hill guarded by a kid with a water gun. A shop owner suspects a man (Lam Suet) of stealing milk formula. Two teenage girls witness someone exposing himself on the bus. A mentally ill man, Shing (Francis Ng), raids a bra shop. A young woman from the Mainland (Zhang Meng) opens a small massage parlor.

Director James Yuen allows his film to unfold organically. His characters swim in and out of the picture, leaving little splashes and sometimes crashing waves across the narrow streets of Wanchai. It’s a far richer portrait of Hong Kong than we’re used to seeing, and that’s what makes this little film so gratifying. There is a tenderness to the way each character is crafted, the way this tiny square of the city is painted to life. Yuen’s camera shows a closeness that is intimate without being claustrophobic.

People and places brush up against each other, sometimes leaving callouses and sometimes adding polish. Over the course of the movie, Chris blunts Manly’s idealism but in a way that helps her to become a better officer. “We’re policemen not supermen,” he explains. Meanwhile, her dedication gives him license to become more invested in his job. He also gets some help from a serial killer subplot that has a bit of an artificial ring to it, shifting the movie into conventional crime thriller territory.

But Ng, whose character Shing figures prominently in that storyline, gives an emotionally charged performance that makes the generic diversion worth it. He also earns points for sensitively drawing attention to mental illness. His costars, both of whom hold Ph.Ds in histrionics, are affecting as well, giving nuanced, unpretentious portrayals. Yung shows she can act when she’s not trying to blast her way through a scene and handles Manly’s conflicting emotions with well earned sympathy. But Chan is the film’s greatest asset, capturing Chris’s mix of idealism, disappointment, and insecurity from scene one. He is exceptional to watch and betrays his character’s thoughts with the slightest physical details. Hong Kong film would do well with more of this Eason Chan and this kind of movie.

Released: 2005
Prod: Derek Yee 爾冬陞; Henry Fong 方平
Dir: James Yuen 阮世生
Writer: James Yuen 阮世生; Law Yiu-Fai 羅耀輝; Jessica Fong 方晴
Cast: Eason Chan 陳奕迅; Joey Yung 容祖兒; Francis Ng 吳鎮宇; Zhang Meng 張萌; Kara Hui 惠英紅; Ng Yat-Yin 吳日言; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Waise Lee 李子雄; Chloe Chiu 趙雪妃; Sam Lee 李燦森; Alex Fong Chung-Sun 方中信; Chin Kar-Lok 錢嘉樂; Ella Koon 官恩娜; Lam Suet 林雪; Crystal Tin 田蕊妮; Liu Kai-Chi 廖啟智; Elena Kong 江美儀; Henry Fong 方平; Harashima Daichi 原島大地
Time: 102 min
Lang: Cantonese, some English
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

City of SARS (非典人生)

City of SARS

City of SARS was made in the immediate aftermath of SARS, the respiratory illness that wreaked havoc on Hong Kong in 2003. Over ten years later, the effects of the outbreak are still felt, as evidenced by the city’s hypervigilance over disinfection and hygiene. A friend who visited recently was riding a crowded public bus when he committed the social faux pas of coughing without a mask and later remarked that he had never felt more like a leper.

As a movie, this one doesn’t have much to offer, and it is more interesting as a historical record and cultural byproduct of the period, giving its audience a sense of the chaos and desperation felt at the epidemic’s ground zero. It is framed almost like a war story, placing Hong Kong as a city under seige, only the enemy is an unseen disease with no known cure. The comparison offers similar moral dilemmas, ones that are vastly oversimplified here.

Instead, the audience is treated to clear ideas about heroism during this particular time of social confusion. The movie reads like an inspirational guidebook; this city of SARS, still shaken by the disastrous outbreak, is eagerly commemorating its martyrs and celebrating its fighting spirit. The film uses three short stories to delineate honorable behavior from the shameful and uncharitable.

The first is set in a hospital and involves a doctor and nurse who grapple with the altruistic demands of their profession against simple self-preservation. When the medical staff start succumbing to the disease, Dr. Chan (Patrick Tam) quickly asks for a transfer. His reasons for doing so are selfish and cowardly but equally natural and even dutiful. However, the complexity of “doing the right thing” doesn’t get a fair trial, least of all because his behavior is contrasted with that of Viola (Kristy Yeung), a nurse on her first day on the job. She is so transparently good, saying and doing all the right, and clichéd, things, that it’s hard to see this part of the movie as anything more than a cinematic thank you note to the fine doctors and nurses who helped Hong Kong through the epidemic.

The second act offers a more interesting story and dramatizes the quarantine of the residents of Amoy Gardens, a housing estate hit hardest by the outbreak. The incident may not have broken through the avalanche of news articles, but this episode gives insight into the ordinary lives of residents at the time. Serena Po plays Wendy, whose primary concern is that her lazy boyfriend treat her to a birthday dinner. Before he can find an excuse, she is evacuated to nearby quarters while her apartment complex is decontaminated. When she meets Henry (Edwin Siu), a happy-go-lucky guy amidst disquiet, she begins to get a handle on life. It’s Po who really brightens this piece, and the whole movie. The ex-Cookie turns out to be a far better actress than her baked brethren and gives her little part a lot of nuance.

These positive feelings aren’t carried over into the third act, however, which is a complete departure in tone. Starring Eric Tsang as an obnoxious businessman Boss Hung, it is a cartoonish comedy that feels almost mocking after two relatively somber stories. After the Boss suffers major financial losses due to SARS, he decides to stop the hemorrhaging by offing himself. This way, his sister (Sharon Chan) will avoid responsibility and retain some security. He decides, of course, that contracting SARS will be the most effective way to die, thus trivializing the rest of the movie to this point. The idea itself is curious and might work independently but not butted to the end of this anthology or starring a grating Tsang who hams it up.

Released: 2003
Prod: Ng Kin-Hung 伍健雄
Dir: Steve Cheng 鄭偉文
Writer: Edmond Wong 黃子桓; Mak Ho-Bon 麥浩邦; Kelvin Lee 李浩章
Cast: Patrick Tam 譚耀文; Kristy Yeung 楊恭如; Felix Wong 黃日華; Gabriel Harrison 海俊傑; Thomas Lam 林祖輝; Susan Tse 謝雪心; Wong Wan-Choi 黃允材; Edwin Siu 蕭正楠; Serena Po 蒲西兒; Amanda Lee 李蕙敏; Monica Lo 盧淑儀; Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Sharon Chan 陳敏之; Jerry Lamb 林曉峰; Chin Ka-Lok 錢嘉樂
Time: 95 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014