Joe Lee Yiu-Ming

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

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