Hyper BB

Fighting for Love (同居蜜友)

fighting for love

These are two emotionally stunted would-be lovers in Joe Ma’s Fighting for Love. Tung Choi (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) and Deborah (Sammi Cheng) bark, claw, and kick at anyone who stands in their way, and they even have a go at each other in the first few minutes. Their mutual disregard for the rules of the road ends in a 999 call, and it’s not the last time they meet.

Of the two, Deborah is more churlish, the coworker who turns the room to ice the second she steps in. Spitting abuse left and right, she leaves a wake of shattered self-confidence as she strides into her office. Deborah’s home life doesn’t fare much better. Her older sister tolerates her while her dad, with whom she lives, only speaks to her when he wants her to walk the dog.

Tung Choi has a warmer relationship with his family, by which I mean they often engage in heated arguments that involve screaming and throwing things. They have the brassy edge of the nouveau riche; not only do they own a successful chain of tripe restaurants (where they serve “2000 bowls of cooked bull organs a day”) but their father also won the lottery, twice. Tung Choi’s harpy family might explain why he’s also pretty insufferable. Though his insults are not as calculated, he can be surly and snappy on a turn.

In short, the two perfect for each other. But rather than teasing out their combative flirtation, the movie takes a poorly planned shortcut. Deborah’s determination to get compensated for the fender bender leads to an early confrontation in a karaoke room. The tension is quickly defused when Tung Choi shows up drunk, and before you know it, they’re snuggling and smoking in bed.

Their one night fling isn’t surprising, but Deborah’s inexplicably sweet demeanor afterwards is. She’s suddenly calling her former foe and teasing three certain words out of him. Tung Choi, also a little confused as to whether she’s in earnest, plays it off but finds himself falling for Deborah’s frankness and fortitude. That makes more sense because she’s a contrast to his manipulative television personality girlfriend, Mindy (Niki Chow), who gradually proves herself to be more of a pill than her rival.

Cheng is incredible to watch and harnesses the power of playing against type. Even as the script pulls her in several directions, Deborah comes off as a real and understandable character. She may not be entirely likable by film’s end, but she doesn’t make excuses and she takes advantage of chances to redeem herself. Tung Choi runs into her after she’s gotten fired and kicked out of the house and ends up sleeping on a hospital room floor. Cheng is full of pathetic bluntness as Deborah explains what’s happened, her face filled with recognition of her own failings rather than with self-pity.

Even with a similarly nuanced performance by Leung, however, this movie never finds its groove. It echoes of a talky, comedy-drama independent. The film is fronted by two people who don’t really know how to have relationships but are prepared to acknowledge that and try anyway. It’s a sometimes clever and funny script that aims for realism of life and love, but ultimately, it can’t overcome its lack of narrative discipline and ends up being a disjointed star vehicle.

“Doctors and Me” (醫生與我) – theme song by Sammi Cheng:

“That Day, Were You Happy” (那天你愉快嗎) by Sammi Cheng:

“Keeping Watch Over Our Love” (守望相愛) by Sammi Cheng

Released: 2001
Prod: Cheung Shing-Sheung 張承勷
Dir: Joe Ma 馬偉豪
Writer: Taures Chow 周燕嫻; Joe Ma 馬偉豪; Aubrey Lam 林愛華
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai 梁朝偉; Sammi Cheng 鄭秀文; Niki Chow 周麗琪; Joe Lee 李耀明; Ha Ping 夏萍; Lee Fung 李楓; Sammy Leung 森美; Chan Man-Lei 陳萬雷; Winston Yeh 葉景文; Hyper BB 茜利妹
Time: 97 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

Diva…Ah Hey (下一站…天后)

diva ah hey

On the face of it, this looks like another early Twins hit – frivolous, chirpy, forgettable, and while it’s certainly not a soaring achievement, you’ll be forgiven for remembering it fondly. Besides spawning a massive hit song of the same title, Diva…Ah Hey! turns out to be a crowd pleaser that actually has some positive things to say about Hong Kong’s teenage girls.

For starters, Ah Hey (Charlene Choi) is not a diva at all. The only child of a fishmonger (Lam Suet), she seeks to make her mark in the world by dipping her toes in the rough waters of the entertainment industry. She has an in with Harry (Jordan Chan), a family friend who manages rising star Shadow (Niki Chow). The company doesn’t have the resources to support new artists, so Ah Hey patiently bides her time, happy to tag along as Harry’s assistant and learn the ropes.

The gloss of show business quickly fades, and Ah Hey learns that few things are what they seem. Things come to a head when the company forces Shadow into a singing career, something explicitly written out of her contract. She can’t carry a note and instead harbors secret ambitions of being a stand-up comedian. In frustration, Harry enlists Ah Hey to sing in Shadow’s place. But the gamble backfires when the record becomes a hit, and they are forced to continue with the deception.

Most people would cry foul, and then take the story to the gossip rags. But Ah Hey is a thoroughly decent person, kind beyond her years. She sees the quartet, which includes driver Wing (Shawn Yue), as a family, and wants them not just to coexist peacefully but to love and support one another. Though Ah Hey knows she’s giving up her chance at a singing career, she’s willing to take a backseat if it means helping Shadow.

Choi is not a great actress here, but her energy and youthful optimism overcome what she lacks in experience. Ah Hey is a delightful character, and Choi turns her idealism into something refreshing and contagious. Her friends truly take her words to heart and care for her and each other. The relationship she shares with Harry is especially pleasing to watch, and I enjoyed the way Chan showed a fatherly affection to her beneath his gruff exterior. For once, a young woman is taken seriously and her hopefulness treated with honesty rather than mocking.

The warm hearted characters are a curious contrast to the plot itself, however, which functions almost as an exposé on the entertainment industry. On its own, the story is about Ah Hey’s good nature triumphing over a duplicitous business. But as a product of EEG, one wonders if the starlet factory is shooting itself in the foot or just telling it like it is. Judging by the movie, the system looks terrible. The company cuts down its young artists, molding them into whatever product they want to push instead of nurturing their talents. At every level, business concerns trump those of music and art. Others also prove that kindness is a liability and that secrecy and selfishness are the regular tools of the trade.

One might accuse EEG, known for their aggressive maneuvering, of employing similar tactics. A quick look at their lineup of so-called singers and actors at the time will show you how invested they were in developing talent. (I mean, have you heard Yumiko Cheng sing?) It’s also ironic that years later, Chow would also record an album that, if we are honest, might have used a little help from Ah Hey. There’s a lot of blame to go around for the miserable state of Hong Kong entertainment, and it’s not clear if the movie is trying to be subversive and attack from within. Maybe the point is it doesn’t matter; Diva…Ah Hey has given the city an absorbing 100 minutes and a durable karaoke song.

“Diva…Ah Hey” (or literally “Next Stop…Tin Hau”) by Twins:

“Chauffeur” (“司機”) by Shawn Yue:

Released: 2003
Prod: Joe Ma 馬偉豪; Ivy Kong 江玉儀
Dir: Joe Ma 馬偉豪
Writer: Joe Ma 馬偉豪; Matt Chow 鄒凱光; Sunny Chan 陳詠燊
Cast: Charlene Choi 蔡卓妍; Jordan Chan 陳小春; Niki Chow 周麗琪; Shawn Yue 余文樂; Chapman To 杜汶澤; Lam Suet 林雪; Belinda Hamnett 韓君婷; Lo Meng 羅莽; Wyman Wong 黃偉文; Hyper BB 茜利妹; Hayama Hiro 葉山豪; Courtney Wu 利沙華
Time: 100 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

Love Undercover (新紮師妹)

love undercover

Fabulously goofy but thoroughly enjoyable, this early Miriam Yeung vehicle features the singer-actress as a new police academy graduate Fong Lai-Keun who is thrust into an undercover operation. In romantic comedy fashion, she falls for her target, a handsome son of a triad member who may or may not have a hand in the family business. The laughs come in rapid succession, with many involving Lai-Kuen’s close calls at being discovered.

Love Undercover is a great improvement on Yeung’s previous film, Dummy Mommy Without a Baby, in which her character shares the same name. Whereas that movie, also directed by Joe Ma, comes coated in cynicism, this one is a light hearted affair that never feels manipulative or underhanded, even when most of the characters are being surreptitious about their affairs.

Much of the positive energy can be credited to Yeung. Though she occasionally launches into a grating verbal tirade, she possesses a comedic flair that boosts even the most mundane jokes and set-ups. This Fong Lai-Kuen is a hapless but lovable loser who proves her worth in a way that circumvents all social and police protocol. Her first commanding officer sees that she’s unfit for serious police work and assigns her to the LPD – the Lost Property Department, where the highlight of her day is catching a glimpse of the handsome Officer Hung (Raymond Wong).

By chance, Lai-Kuen is recruited for a one off undercover assignment. She poses as a waitress in order to spy on Hoi-Man (Daniel Wu), a dishy devil with slicked back hair and a dark leather jacket. Her only job is to make sure a miked bottle of ketchup is positioned to pick up his conversation with a potential triad member. In short order, everything goes haywire and it seems the whole outing is a bust. But Lai-Kuen’s quick thinking breathes life, and a lot of laughs, into the pursuit. Before long, the whole team is in on the action, masquerading as various family members and questionable lovers.

The faux seriousness of the operation and the conspiratorial playfulness of everyone involved make this a fun film. It doesn’t deserve any awards but it is a satisfying night in. Besides Yeung, Hui Siu-Hung delivers a wry performance as Lai-Kuen’s superior while Sammy Leung and Wyman Wong as Lai-Kuen’s friends and fellow officers mine their double act for more comedic nuggets. Joe Lee as Hoi-Man’s assistant Chuen also carries an eccentric menace; we are talking about the triads after all. Wu plays the straight man to the crazies in the police department, and though much is/has been said about his wooden acting, he is a convincing lover. It helps that he and Yeung share a buoyant chemistry that carries the film through some slower moments.

It won’t be giving much away to say that Lai-Kuen wins the day. The joy is in watching an unspectacular woman make the most of her lousy hand and all the bumps that come afterward. Lai-Kuen may have begun her career on a diet of crackers and cup noodles and she may have been chosen for the undercover assignment initially because she didn’t even have a dog that would miss her, but she’s a triumph of the ordinary.

“男女關係科” (“Relationships”) – theme song by Miriam Yeung

“勇” (“Courage”) – by Miriam Yeung

Released: 2002
Prod: Ivy Kong Yuk-Yee 江玉儀
Dir: Joe Ma Wai-Ho 馬偉豪
Writer: Joe Ma Wai-Ho 馬偉豪; Sunny Chan Wing-Sun 陳詠燊
Cast: Miriam Yeung 楊千嬅; Daniel Wu 吳彥祖; Raymond Wong 黃浩然; Eileen Cha 查小欣; Wyman Wong 黃偉文; Sammy Leung 森美; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Iris Wong 黃泆潼; Claire Yau 邱琪文; Chow Chung 周驄; Joe Lee 李耀明; Hyper BB 茜利妹
Time: 102 min
Lang: Cantonese
Reviewed: 2014