Jacquelin Ch’ng Si-Man

I Love Hong Kong 2012 (2012我愛HK喜上加囍)

i love hk 2012

The Mayan doomsday prophecy generated plenty of headlines and inspired a slew of apocalyptic disaster movies in 2012, and it curiously underlines this fluffy Chinese New Year film. The approaching armageddon motivates the characters to realize the importance of family and, matched with a bag of laughs and a bundle of television stars, makes for a standard holiday film.

Though it shares a title with TVB’s 2011 CNY effort, the two are unrelated and I Love Hong Kong 2012 fails to live up to its predecessor. This one is a messy affair that lacks a coherent plot to drive its message home. Like the previous year’s film, Stanley Fung stars as the family patriarch. Kwok Ching is a longtime weather reporter for the local television station, and some scenes might remind you of the CNY classic It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World). At work, he locks horns with his boss and one-time classmate, Kei Yee (Siu Yam-Yam), and at home, he oversees the lives of his three children – eldest daughter and lawyer Kwok Mei-Mei (Teresa Mo), who is married to Yao Ming (Eric Tsang, not Yao Ming), tomboyish middle child Kwok Ching-Ching (Denise Ho, not Guo Jing Jing), and youngest son and cameraman Aaron Kwok (6 Wing, not Aaron Kwok) – and brother San (Evergreen Mak).

The family’s personal and professional trials are subject to a revolving door of jokes and gags, the enjoyment of which depends largely on your knowledge of Cantonese and local news and gossip. The Hong Kong Observatory comes under fire and Mainland mothers crowding the city’s maternity wards also take a hit. Some of the best laughs come from a parody of the 2011 Taiwanese smash You are the Apple of My Eye between Ching and Kei Yee as they reflect on their youth and the present. Another moment that simultaneously elicits howls of joy and shrieks of horror comes when Mei-Mei and Ming, who are having trouble conceiving, try to get it on by dressing up in various form-fitting attire. Some people think it’s funny to see Eric Tsang wear spandex superhero costumes; some do not.

Everyone is absorbed in their own little orbit, and the camera flits into each character’s life just long enough to establish a conflict and make a few wisecracks before flying off again. So when the threat of annihilation comes to the fore, there’s a confusing urgency to everyone’s problems. Mei-Mei and Ming’s testy relationship is complicated when their sponsored daughter (Natalie Meng) arrives, having grown into a beautiful, busty young woman. Ching-Ching must decide whether she wants to marry her boyfriend (Bosco Wong), an effeminate grocery store salesperson, and in the process try to reconcile her boyish looks and behavior with her father’s gender expectations. The greatest burden though might fall on little Aaron Kwok, whose love for property/entertainment magnate’s lover (William So and Viann Zhang, respectively) pits him against all those monopolizing barons who are crushing the little people.

The jumble of stray plotlines eventually comes together and is resolved in a way so that all things are made clear and put at peace when you think the world will end. Despite humorous performances especially by Mo and a leather-clad E02, the movie doesn’t earn its good will. Nevertheless, you will probably leave the theatre, or your DVD player, or your illegal streaming site, with a warm feeling in your heart.

“Amazing Grace” (明日恩典) by Joey Yung

Released: 2012
Prod: Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Peter Tsi 戚家基
Dir: Wilson Chin 錢國偉; Chung Shu-Kai 鍾澍佳
Writer: Peter Tsi 戚家基; Kwok Kin-Lok 郭建樂; Michelle Tsui 徐敏琳
Cast: Stanley Fung 馮淬帆; Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Teresa Mo 毛舜筠; Denise Ho 何韻詩; Bosco Wong 黃宗澤; Evergreen Mak 麥長青; 6 Wing 陸永; William So 蘇永康; Viann Zhang 張馨予; Siu Yam-Yam 邵音音; Christine Kuo 苟芸慧; Maggie Siu 邵美琪; Ding Yue 丁羽; Mimi Chu 朱咪咪; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; King Kong 金剛; Bob Lam 林盛斌; Jess Shum 沈卓盈; Tats Lau 劉以達; Eliza Sam 岑麗香; Alfred Cheung 張堅庭; Natalie Meng 孟瑤; Samantha Ko 高海寧; Tenky Tin 田啟文; Otto Wong 王志安; Eddie Pang 彭懷安; Eric Tse 謝凱榮; Osman Hung 洪智傑; Celine Ma 馬蹄露; Matthew Ko 高鈞賢; Liu Fan 魯芬; Yu Miu-Lin 余慕蓮; Sire Ma 馬賽; Cilla Kung 樂瞳; Jacqueline Chong 莊思敏; Raymond Chiu 趙永洪; Matt Chow 鄒凱光; Han Jin 陳奐仁; Louis Yuen 阮兆祥; Mak Ling Ling 麥玲玲; Stephanie Che 車婉婉; Gill Mohindepaul Singh 喬寶寶
Time: 95 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

I Love Hong Kong 2013 (2013我愛HK恭囍發財)

i love hk2013

Recently, Hong Kong’s go-to television station, TVB, has had a decent track record delivering satisfying Chinese New Year’s fare. This effort doesn’t quite live up to the lofty expectations set by its predecessors, like 72 Tenants of Prosperity and the 2011 installment of I Love Hong Kong, but still manages to tick off the appropriate boxes. There are sophomoric slapstick gags, local jokes for those in the know, a bit of song and dance, conspicuous product placement. The network also imports a few big name actors to balance out the surfeit of TVB extras. These movies are meant to be a paean to the common folk, the ones most likely to fill the seats, and a bevy of artistic contributors have scraped together a simple plot that churns up warm feelings but does not tread too heavily on the intellect.

It’s a timeless Hong Kong tale of the small potatoes getting mashed by villainous property developers. Sung Chi-Hung (Alan Tam) is the poorly coiffed but genial owner of a neighborhood dim sum restaurant. His wife Yeung Yeung (Veronica Yip) thinks he’s a little too charitable though and that he considers the needs of his employees and customers before those of his family.

On Chinese New Year’s Eve, she rallies her sons and daughters-in-law to trick Chi-Hung into selling the restaurant, which seems like a way to earn bad karma for at least a year or two. When he still refuses to sell, they desert him in a huff. Feeling neglected and inadequate, he decides to throw himself off the roof. He is saved just in time by an angel in the form of Eric Tsang (TVB archangel in real life), who guides Chi-Hung into the past in a low-budget Christmas Carol sort of way. Our desperate hero begins to recall the decisions that led him to his current predicament.

The movie goes into an extended flashback and stays there until the last 15 minutes or so, which is to say the audience sees a lot more TVB actors than Alan Tam and Veronica Yip. Bosco Wong and Kate Tsui fill in as the younger 1970s versions of Chi-Hung and Yeung Yeung, whose initial pairing finds resistance with a few people. Her wealthy father (Hui Siu-Hung) objects to his daughter dating a restaurant lackey while Chi-Hung’s insincere friend Ha Shek-Sam (Michael Tse) wants Yeung Yeung for himself. Of course true love endures, despite their machinations. What doesn’t run so smoothly is the restaurant, which constantly faces the threat of going under. Chi-Hung’s honesty and/or naïveté saves the employees and owner (Stanley Fung), but increasingly at the cost of his growing family’s needs and comfort.

The movie crescendos to an uplifting finale but is longer on nostalgia and shorter on humor than TVB’s previous holiday films. The warm 1970s sheen of the piece does not enlighten on the past or present but is used to bolster the audience’s Hong Kong sentiment. It is a giant cinematic trinket displayed to reassert the city’s identity. And indeed there is some not-so-subtle identity politics when the restaurant changes owners; everyone is assured that nothing will change in 50 years, and we know how that’s working out.

Mostly, the mood is dampened because the film is just not particularly showy or fun. And because a blackfaced character is still being played for laughs in 2013. The musical numbers are perfunctory and put the stylized set to waste. Also, the premise of a family turning against itself is a bit mean spirited, regardless of the outcome. There are a few entertaining performances. This isn’t the stuff of drama school, but Michael Tse and Joyce Cheng as Shek-Sam’s accidental love interest make an energetic pair. Some would call it overacting, which it is, but one can indulge during this time of year.

Released: 2013
Prod: Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Peter Tsi 戚家基
Dir: Chung Shu-Kai 鍾澍佳
Writer: Peter Tsi 戚家基; Kwok Kin-Lok 郭建樂; Yan Pak-Wing 甄柏榮; Chiu Sin-Hang 趙善恆
Cast: Bosco Wong 黃宗澤; Michael Tse 謝天華; Kate Tsui 徐子珊 Joyce Cheng 鄭欣宜; Alan Tam 譚詠麟; Nats Chan 陳百祥; Veronica Yip 葉玉卿; Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Stanley Fung 馮淬帆; Wong Cho-Lam 王祖藍; Jacqueline Chong 莊思敏; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Alfred Cheung 張堅庭; Natalie Meng 孟瑤; Alvina Kong 江欣燕; Evergreen Mak 麥長青; Koo Ming-Wah 古明華; Tenky Tin 田啟文; Otto Wong 王志安; Eddie Pang 彭懷安; Samantha Ko 高海寧; Pierre Ngo 敖嘉年; Liu Fan 魯芬; Koni Lui 呂慧儀; 6 Wing 陸永; Siu Yam-Yam 邵音音; Gill Mohindepaul Singh 喬寶寶; Terence Tsui 小肥; Joe Junior
Time: 110 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

Love is the Only Answer (人約離婚後)

love is the only answer

Patrick Kong is at it again with another tale of love in the city. Like Marriage with a Liar, cheating couples expound on the nature of romance and relationships; unlike that movie, this one is fairly enjoyable, thanks to the credible acting skills and unexpected chemistry of the leading couple. Lest you be too greedy, still expect snipy women, painful acting, frenetic editing, and a big reveal.

Kong trades up by casting TVB star Charmaine Sheh as his leading lady. Neither an ingenue nor a busty leng mo, à la Kong’s previous muses Stephy Tang and Chrissy Chau, Sheh brings a grounded realism that makes her character Bo seem relatively normal in the hyperactive and reactive world of cinematic Hong Kong women. She takes control of her life, as adults are wont to do, in a very dramatic way on her wedding day – by exposing her new husband Ryan’s (Alex Fong Lik-Sun) sex tape with her bridesmaid (Jeana Ho).

For most, that would end the relationship, full stop. But Kong just uses it as his starting point to spin a nonsensical plot. One year later, Bo and Ryan are getting along fabulously, in a way that has no basis in reality. He uses her to get rid of clingy girlfriends and, since he is filthy rich and the landlord of her fruit stall, she exploits their quasi-friendship to get more favorable rent. They go out for dinner together when good food and good deals are involved, and they seem to enjoy exchanging rapid fire insults and constantly reminding each other that they are in fact divorced. I don’t know divorced people like them, but maybe you do.

Feelings start to get muddled and hurt when Ryan convinces Bo to join a spouse swap. As luck, or the writer, would have it, the couple trade with another young and good looking pair, Lai (Kelly Fu) and Kit (Him Law). Ryan and Lai are eager to dive into things and immediately get on with whatever it is that swapping spouses want. Meanwhile, Bo and a very reticent Kit, who just joined to please his wife, try to turn their awkward situation into something more genuine.

While that part of the story is on slow boil, Kong introduces a minor plot involving an engaged couple, Jason (Jason Chan) and Christy (Anjayliya Chan). Jason spends most of his screen time making puppy eyes at his fiancée, who returns the favor by snapping like a hyena at every single thing. It is an exercise in bad storytelling; this part seems totally extraneous – until the closing minutes of the film when it.all.comes.together. But by then, the couple feel like more of a contrivance, an overly complicated way to squeeze in a commentary on love that would be better made by focusing on Bo and Ryan’s story.

This frantic tying up of loose ends is endemic to Patrick Kong, also serial abuser of flashbacks. As with previous movies, the writer-director slices and dices at will – I want to say like a Jack Kerouac of Hong Kong romantic comedies, but that would be wrong. Again the editing tends to prove distracting rather than reflective, with the action toggling back and forth between past and present and one couple or another.

Kong also cannot overcome his penchant for casting supremely unskilled actors. Sheh and Fong shine like bright stars in his firmament, and I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about that. The mismatched couple surprises in several ways. They make convincing sparring partners, but I also found myself drawn to the brazen honesty of their characters and relationship. Alex Fong the Younger is devilishly magnetic as the cad. Unfortunately the same appeal does not extend to the supporting cast, which, cobbled together, make about ¾ of an actor. But this is Hong Kong film, so we all have to make sacrifices.

超生記 – themesong by Charmaine Fong.

Released: 2011
Prod: Wong Jing 王晶
Dir: Patrick Kong 葉念琛
Writer: Patrick Kong 葉念琛
Cast: Charmaine Sheh 佘詩曼; Alex Fong 方力申; Him Law 羅仲謙; Anjayliya Chan 陳嘉寶; Jason Chan 陳智燊; Rose Chan 陳嘉桓; King Kong 金剛; Siu Yam-Yam 邵音音; Fu Ka-Lei 傅嘉莉; Chak Hoi-Tai 翟凱泰; Timmy Hung 洪天明; Charmaine Fong 方皓玟; Jacqueline Chong 莊思敏; Harriet Yeung 楊詩敏; Dada Lo 盧頌之; Evelyn Choi 蔡穎恩; Michelle Wai 詩雅; 6 Wing 陸永; Jeana Ho 何佩瑜; Carol Yeung 楊梓瑤; Raymond Chiu 趙永洪; Bob Lam 林盛斌; Kandy Wong 黃山怡; Tat Dik 狄易達
Time: 90 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014