Derek Yee

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

Driving Miss Perfect (絕世好賓)

絕世好賓

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.

 

Released: 2004
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
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2013

Drink Drank Drunk (千杯不醉)

If we’re going to compare this movie to a brew, San Miguel would be a good choice, and it might help if you had a few cans with you. Like the ubiquitous San Mig (at least in Hong Kong), this cheap and accessible effort gets the job done when more refined options aren’t available. The crowd-pleasing duo of Miriam Yeung and Daniel Wu tries to recreate the chemistry that made the first Love Undercover such a hit. Yeung is Siu-Man, a beer girl with a heart of gold – and the handy ability to never get inebriated; the Chinese title translates to “not drunk after 1000 glasses.” This earns her the respect and affections of one Brother 9 (in a slightly sleazy but still loveable turn by Alex Fong). One night, she happens upon Michel (Daniel Wu masquerading as a French Chinese), who is drunk beyond repair. As it happens, he is also a gorgeous chef with zero business acumen. Luckily, Siu-Man is there to provide him a place to stay and to save his restaurant, all on a beer girl’s salary.

Her willingness to help him out and his talent for baking delicious pretzels quickly leads to romance. Michel, however, is not keen on settling down, and the partnership is complicated by slow business and the fact that Siu-Man is now Michel’s landlord and investor. His self-doubts intensify when free-wheeling buddy Long (Terence Yin playing his usual character) crashes into the scene and chastises him for being too domestic. This prompts Siu-Man to hold on tighter to her man, just what a frustrated Michel does not need. The moment is ripe for another woman to enter the picture, and she comes in the form of slinky, cigar chomping restaurateur Zhao Jie (Hu Jing). Miss Zhao tries to poach Michel for her own chain of posh eateries and dangles a fat paycheck, and herself, in front of him.

Does he bite or does the local girl triumph? At least the question is made more relevant by developments in the second half of the movie, which teases out some of the mundane pressures of a relationship not often portrayed in Hong Kong film. Despite this, the characters are not captivating enough to power the point through, and instead I found myself drawn to some unexplored elements. A critique of Hong Kong food culture, Mainland investment in the city, upscale eateries, or even beer girls would have made more interesting pictures.

So those seeking a probing romance or especially Love Undercover revamped, will be disappointed. For one, Drink Drank Drunk relies primarily on the charm of its two leads. This film has neither the characters nor chemistry to elevate them, apart from an over-the-top Alex Fong in a role usually reserved for Eric Kot. This movie also discards the tidy romantic simplicity of Love Undercover and lacks the novelty of a goofy Miss Yeung. Still, if you need your dose of Miriam and Daniel, you will probably appreciate the effort.

Released: 2005/Reviewed: 2011