Francis Ng Chun-Yu

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

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

Women from Mars (當男人變成女人)

women from mars

Most Hong Kong movies that comment on gender roles and relations tend to offend my feminist sensibilities, to say nothing of the ones that purposely seize on sexist stereotypes. Women From Mars plays to expectations and does what such films do best – purport to share an enlightened opinion on gender and relationships while reaffirming traditional views in reality. You can almost always expect the man to get his comeuppance. It’s an attempt to show that the male writers, directors, and producers who populate the industry are forward thinking blokes who “get” women and who are self-aware of sexism in society and in their films. It seems, however, that the apologetic tone is more of an excuse to push sexist rubbish onto eager audiences than to atone for past wrongs. After all, this plot device keeps the focus on male character development and leaves women to be mere vehicles for which guys can discover and become their truer, better selves.

I had fleeting hopes that Women From Mars would at least be a humorous exercise with an ever slight potential of satire. A trio of insensitive, philandering men take the scary bus to hell only to win a reprieve and pop back up to earth, sans the family jewels. In order to win back them back, their girlfriends must sincerely declare their love within the month. Think Beauty and the Beast, but with graver consequences. However, the movie manages further insult by not being funny. Worse, it is fifty shades of dull.

Too much time is wasted on chatty exposition, which happens when bad ideas turn into movies. The three poorly drawn characters spend half an hour talking their way into revealing what jerks they are. Tom Kan (Ekin Cheng) is a celebrity hair stylist but spends more time trying to pick up girls than he does cutting hair. Bo (Cheung Tat-Ming), a pet store owner, is perhaps even more unsavory; he preys on women’s naturally sympathetic and gullible nature so that they will buy his animals. His cousin Michael (Michael Wong) at least has a steady girlfriend, Ruby (Ruby Wong), but he comes from some plot-device village where men take care of the thinking and decision-making and women can just shut their pie holes and cover them up with a face mask.

Their behavior is sleazy, aggravating, and juvenile, but sending them to hell to get their parts nipped seems drastic and somewhat pointless. These are not men particularly attuned to their misbehaviors to begin with, and some devilish tomfoolery does little to improve their powers of perception. Indeed, Tom, Bo, and Michael try to cheat their way into getting their ding-a-lings reattached and without giving serious thought to how they ended up in this predicament. The monotony of their pursuit is broken up by a spiteful, cross dressing radio DJ (Wayne Lai) and a station manager (Francis Ng). They appear a lot and don’t do anything important, their main purpose being to set up a big reveal.

A few gags help push the boys along the path to enlightenment but these better succeed in patronizing women. Without their pricks, the three find themselves increasingly prone to self-doubt, mood swings, and a fear of cockroaches. They curl up on a couch and lament their lack of literal and figurative balls. When they predictably get a real taste of womanhood, as defined by the writers, they at last recognize what an emotional and physical slog it is to be female.

The primary effect here is to show that the fairer sex are overly sensitive creatures. Better to have a real man who knows how to tend to their insecurities and needs. This stands in contrast to the girlfriends who, to the writers’ credit, come off as well adjusted adults, albeit with an unusually forgiving taste in partners. Ruby gets the most screentime and exhibits none of the stereotyped histrionics that the men (as women) do.

Still, there’s an air of exceptional tolerance. The film suggests that a few turns in a girls’ room queue and some sympathetic remarks about pregnancy can go a long way in helping guys understand how the other half lives. It’s tidy, reductive and only helps rein in the chauvinistic beasts in the movie world. It’s also bad entertainment.

Released: 2002
Prod: Manfred Wong 文雋; Frankie Ng 吳志雄
Dir: Andrew Lau 劉偉強; Raymond Yip 葉偉民
Writer: Manfred Wong 文雋; Chau Ting 秋婷; Matt Chow 鄒凱光
Cast: Ekin Cheng 鄭伊健; Michael Wong 王敏德; Cheung Tat-Ming 張達明; Audrey Fang 方子璇; Louis Koo 古天樂; Ruby Wong 黃卓玲; Shu Qi 舒淇; Stephen Fung 馮德倫; Kristy Yeung 楊恭如; Pinky Cheung 張文慈; Francis Ng 吳鎮宇; Wayne Lai 黎耀祥; Qu Ying 瞿穎; Josie Ho 何超儀; Bobo Chan 陳文媛; Wilson Yip 葉偉信; Joe Ma 馬偉豪; Jerry Lamb 林曉峰; Roy Cheung 張耀揚; Michael Tse 謝天華; Amanda Lee 李蕙敏; Lam Tze-Chung 林子聰; Angela Tong 湯盈盈; Kingdom Yuen 苑瓊丹; Belinda Hamnett 韓君婷
Time: 92 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014