Chrissie Chau Sau-Na

Lan Kwai Fong (喜愛夜蒲)

lan kwai fong

For the uninitiated, Lan Kwai Fong is a small but pricey patch of real estate in Hong Kong’s financial district. During the day, it’s a lazy, barren grid of sloping streets, a stray pedestrian here and there. But by night, it’s a coed’s steamy playground and a tourist’s boozy retreat. Bass, bodies, and bad memories of college come tumbling out of the bars that line the streets. It’s an ideal setting for wet t-shirt and burger eating contests and, according to writers Mark Wu and Lam Fung, a racy movie about the local club scene.

An exciting night out doesn’t always make for an interesting film though, and sometimes it’s better to just go for the real thing, if you are into the hedonistic lifestyle that is so gleefully portrayed. The upscale revelers are there “to see and be seen,” not unlike the target audience for this movie. Lan Kwai Fong is sure to appeal to those who already wallpaper their social media with selfies and snaps of beautiful friends downing champagne and shots and wouldn’t mind seeing their lives mirrored on the big screen.

The film boasts an abundance of good-looking people, but none of these singers and models light up the screen on account of their acting abilities. The closest we get to an actor is Shiga Lin, who plays Jennifer and simply has the biggest part. She and her flight attendant colleagues (Stephanie Cheng and Jeana Ho) hit up the town and find themselves in a club run by guyliner-lover Jacky (Jason Chan). His friend Steven (Z.O.) immediately cozies up to her while another friend Sean (Gregory Wong) eyes Cat (Dada Chan), who is regularly on the prowl for sexual partners.

The filmmakers make some effort to give depth to these characters and their relationships. Jennifer and Steven hope that something more lasting than a one night stand is possible in this vacuous club culture. Jacky develops feelings for Jeana (Ho) but has to resolve some control issues with his ex (Bonnie Sin). Cat maybe wants more out of life while Sean, well, he still wants to get laid. There are numerous minor characters besides whose purpose is to insist that varied and complex people populate the scene.

It’s a lot for skilled writers and directors to manage, but in the hands of Lan Kwai Fong’s creative team, nothing trumps a blacklight glow and the heart-thumping pulsations. Rather than scraping away at the characters’ superficiality, they use their relationships to serve the scenery more than the plot, which is as meandering and purposeless as the people in it. The first 25 minutes are used merely to establish the ideal club atmosphere. Characters catwalk through crowds, awkward introductions are bolstered by alcohol, and a police raid interrupts bathroom sex, but nothing of consequence happens. Instead, the film minimizes narrative in order to flaunt its (perceived) best features. There’s a lot more skin and sex than your average Hong Kong picture, though nothing that will startle Western moviegoers, and that’s clearly enough to generate box office buzz and prompt two sequels.

“I’m Still Loving You” by Shiga Lin:

“Wonderland” by 24Herbs ft. Janice Vidal [Note: This might be the worst Cantonese/English song ever. At the very least, it is the most embarrassing. Actual line ‘Imma make you my lady, and maybe we can make some babies.’ You’ve been warned.]:

Released: 2011
Prod: Ng Kin-Hung 伍健雄
Dir: Wilson Chin 錢國偉
Writer: Mark Wu 胡耀輝; Lam Fung 林逢
Cast: Shiga Lin 連詩雅; Z.O. Shen Zhiming 沈志明; Jeana Ho 何佩瑜; Jason Chan 陳柏宇; Dada Chan 陳靜; Gregory Wong 王宗堯; Stephanie Cheng 鄭融; Jun Kung 恭碩良; Miki Yeung 楊愛瑾; Bonnie Sin 冼色麗; Cheng Ka-Wai 鄭家維; Emme Wong 黃伊汶; Tan Lap-Man 單立文; Chrissie Chau 周秀娜; Jacqueline Chong 莊思敏; Bob Lam 林盛斌
Time: 97 min
Lang: Cantonese, some Mandarin and English
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

My Beautiful Kingdom (我的美丽王国)

my beautiful kingdom

The Mainland film industry is eager to show off the country’s wealth and worldliness through high end fashion (e.g. Esquire Runway, Sleepless Fashion), and My Beautiful Kingdom is another notch to that totem. Though it sounds like a movie about My Little Ponies romping about a magical fairy land, it is instead a behind-the-scenes look at the modeling industry.

At least it purports to be. Fans expecting FHM cover girls Chrissie Chau and Gong Xinliang to recreate photo spreads will be disappointed, and while fashion shows bookend the film, there ends up being precious little insight into life on the catwalk. Instead, My Beautiful Kingdom turns out to be a misleadingly grand title for a routine drama about friendship.

Best buddies Ruotong (Chau), Xiaoyi (Gong), and Yizhi (Gu Xuan) head to Beijing to make it big in the modeling world but face constant setbacks after they get there. Xiaoyi ends up with more jobs but her career has stalled thanks to her alcoholic manager (Cheng Jun). Since helping supermodel Li Jieling (Jade Lin) catapult to stardom, he’s lost his touch and doesn’t seem to grasp Xiaoyi’s desperation.

Luckily for Ruotong, a stint as a banana mascot leads her to Kelvin (Jiro Wang), a PR manager and Jieling’s boyfriend. Her cheerful demeanor and strong work ethic win him over, and he proposes that she model for a new campaign he is running. The clients are pleased, his coworkers are impressed, and he and Ruotong flirt with the idea of a romance. But several people aren’t content with this new professional and possibly personal coupling. Jieling, who had been distant in her relationship, now wants her boyfriend back, and Xiaoyi tries to mask her jealousy with icy smiles. Before long, Ruotong’s career risks fizzling out before it’s even really begun.

The same can be said about this movie, which is not so bad as it is dull. It is held together by a coherent plot that moves along logically if predictably and filled with characters who behave in a similar manner. It is nothing more than a pearly string a clichés, but even these are done without dazzle. For a film about modeling, there is not much to look at, except for the stars who remain modestly dressed.

The movie wastes a great opportunity show off its location shoots as well. The opening credits paint Beijing with twinkling golden lights but then does nothing to display the city’s glamour. Likewise, a Parisian adventure gets jazzed up, at best, by whatever’s the video equivalent of an Instagram filter. In one scene, two characters argue in front of the Louvre Pyramid in the dead of the night. It’s an attempt to flaunt the film’s budget and ambition but only serves to emphasize an artistic deficit, and the Pyramid is reduced to a nonsensical prop amidst an inky backdrop.

Nor do the actors do much to add emotion and excitement to the film. Chrissie Chau proves that she has a sweet smile but also confirms that her talents lie outside of acting. The blandness she brings to her character is matched by her costar, Wang, so at least they make a balanced couple. Even Chen Han-Tien, who can be instantly likable in the most average films, leaves little impression here as Kelvin’s friend Penghai. The only character given some emotional heft is Xiaoyi, and Gong has the pleading look of a woman who understands the fickle nature of her business. Like most of the cast, however, she is not strong enough an actress to give more form to a mediocre part.

Released: 2013
Prod: Zhao Guangxin 赵广忻
Dir: Mak Wing-Lun 麥詠麟
Writer: Xin Yuanzi 辛苑子
Cast: Jiro Wang 汪東城; Chrissie Chau 周秀娜; Chen Han-Tien 陳漢典; Gong Xinliang 鞏新亮; Gu Xuan 顾璇; Cheng Jun 程俊; Jade Lin 林菀; Wang Xiang’en 王翔恩; Benji 班傑
Time: 87 min
Lang: Mandarin, very poorly dubbed
Country: Mainland China
Reviewed: 2014

Perfect Wedding (抱抱俏佳人)

perfect wedding

Would you chat up Raymond Lam if he was sitting alone at a chic bar sipping a glass of wine, nose buried in The Lost Symbol? This movie assumes you would, that is, if you are a woman who loves a man with a philistine bent towards literature. Lam along with his erstwhile costar Miriam Yeung (from TVB’s 2001 serial Taste of Love) quickly dispense with Dan Brown and get on to more pleasurable pursuits.

Both tweak their stock characters for this agreeable romantic comedy. Yeung retains her energetic and somewhat biting onscreen persona as Yan, wedding planner for the well-to-do. She dials up the intensity though as a taskmaster and company owner who goes all out to deliver the perfect nuptials for her demanding clients. Along the way, she delivers some sharp jabs at the absurdity of the industry. On the other side of the bed, TVB prince Lam reprises his television duties as the romantic hero Fung, the main difference being his heightened state of undress.

Their relationship begins after a one night stand extends into a very awkward work affair. Fung is unexpectedly dispatched as the celebrant of several weddings under Yan’s direction. She’s not pleased, as Yeung tries to convey with pouty chin and angry saucer eyes, but after he helps her out of a few tight spots, she begins to soften. Not only does Fung secure a performance by Lady Gaga thus winning Yan another spendthrift client, he also accompanies her on a drinking binge following a disastrous TV interview.

It turns out that under Yan’s flinty exterior lies a jilted bride clutching a messy bouquet of confusion, insecurity, and regret. She may still have a thing for her photographer ex (Kot), but she also finds Fung’s youth and optimism refreshing. The couple bond over rotisserie chicken, and other things, but she can’t bring herself to acknowledge the relationship in front of her coworkers or friends.

Yeung is well matched against both costars, bringing something akin to character development for a female role in Hong Kong film. The casual viewer may be surprised that the woman charging the corridors in the business district Central, or in this case Cyberport, has an interior life. She is genuinely conflicted about choosing between Raymond Lam and Eric Kot, and that takes convincing. Meanwhile, Lam, in his big screen return (minus a minor part in 72 Tenants of Prosperity), is not tasked with much acting; he nevertheless manages a good impression of an eager boyfriend.

He does his company proud, as does a vacuous gaggle of TVB regulars who pop in to support the cause. Hong Kong’s premiere television station, by default, does what it does best – promote itself. Pageant princesses Kate Tsui, Bernice Liu, and Oceane Zhu, along with entertainment stalwart Teresa Mo constitute Yan’s preening entourage. Pierre Ngo is a camp one-note stereotype. Even TVB’s pastry bedfellow, Kee Wah, makes an appearance. Such a love-in is sure to keep the television loyalists happy, but it’s an affair non-fans will also find satisfying.

Miriam Yeung and Raymond Lam’s “First Sight” (初見).

Released: 2010
Prod: Lawrence Cheng 鄭丹瑞; Ren Yue 任月; Zhao Jun 趙軍; Stephen Lam 林炳坤
Dir: Barbara Wong 黃真真
Writer: Lawrence Cheng 鄭丹瑞; Hau Wing-Hang 侯穎桁
Cast: Miriam Yeung 楊千嬅; Raymond Lam 林峯;  Chrissie Chau 周秀娜; Pierre Ngo 敖嘉年; Teresa Mo 毛舜筠; Eric Kot 葛民輝; Mak Ling-Ling 麥玲玲; Kate Tsui 徐子珊; Bernice Liu 廖碧兒; Oceane Zhu 硃璇; Richard Ng 吳耀漢; Ken Hung 洪卓立; Kylie Weng 翁佳妮; Kathy Yuen 湯怡; Tats Lau 劉以達; Ankie Beilke 貝安琪; Lily Ho 何傲兒; Samantha Ko 高海寧
Time: 99 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2013