Lam Suet

Men Suddenly in Black (大丈夫)

men suddenly in black

Tales of extramarital escapades carry a decidedly sexist bent in Hong Kong. Many, though not all, depict men who are just out for some fun and who don’t need harpy wives lording over their natural right to get a little bit of ass. It’s an effect of a film industry dominated by men, a situation that doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions to the rule, and Edmond Pang’s comedy shows an alternative direction for Hong Kong cinema. While it doesn’t escape cheap shots at women from time to time, the net result is a fresh and fun take on a boys’ night out.

A major reason is its genre influence. More a send-up of triad films than a generic husband and wife catch-me-if-you-can, Men Suddenly in Black largely overlooks the tetchy issues of love. To be sure, there are promises of romance, and naïve newlywed Ching (Marsha Yuen) clings the most to the fiction of her husband’s gallantry, but distilled, this film plays out like a typical gangster film. Loyalty and brotherhood reign supreme, and the four lads’ vows to each other are the most sacred.

The quartet, Tin (Eric Tsang), Cheung (Jordan Chan), Chau (Chapman To), and Paul (Spirit Blue), are determined to get out and get laid, but it’s clear from the start that this is no ordinary romp. Years in the planning, their meticulous precautions resemble an illegal drugs operation – disposable mobiles, wads of cash, undercover vehicle. They even send their wives (Teresa Mo, Candy Lo, Tiffany Li, Yuen) on a 12-hour getaway to Thailand for extra insurance. Their day is rolled out in three stages, beginning with hookups with old flings, then another chance to get lucky at an internet café, and finally a penthouse party where it’s raining condoms.

The four have contrived excuses for cheating, but the memory of their fallen brother, Uncle Nine (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) ends up being their main motivation. Lionized for his sacrifice during a raucous boys’ night, he is as good as dead, having languished under house arrest since the 80s. His strong-willed wife (Sandra Ng) ensures that he is deprived of all carnal pleasures until he ‘fesses up and starts naming names. The guys reason that giving up on their mission would be dishonoring Brother Nine’s sacrifice, so they have no choice but to philander on.

The triads versus cops mentality does several things for the film, one of which is casting the women as equal players in the game. While the men are busy trying to outwit their partners and are knowingly on the wrong side of the law, the wives show how effective they can be when they know they are being played. Even if romance is ignored, marriage vows are not, and the women prove just as calculating. Their ferocity is not the cause of their husbands’ infidelities but the one tool they have, short of divorce, to deal with it.

Pang also manages to turn cliché moments into highly stylized and humorous scenes, with able help from a willing cast. Thinking their wives are onto them, the men’s routine escape from a seedy joint becomes an all water pistols blazing shootout. Uncle Nine’s bleak existence also draws laughs because of how closely it mimics the imprisoned but resolute triad trope. For the most part, the language of brotherhood that the director employs lends itself to comedy in smart, appealing ways without resorting to bawdy, sexist jokes, at least most of the time. There’s a lazy gag about Tin’s ex (Maria Cordero) who experiences the ugly duckling and beautiful swan transformation in reverse, and the same story gives actor Tsang a disturbing chance to make out with a teenage character. Nevertheless, the film is still smarter and funnier than similar ventures.

Released: 2003
Prod: Eric Tsang 曾志偉
Dir: Edmond Pang 彭浩翔
Writer: Edmond Pang 彭浩翔; Patrick Kong 葉念琛; Erica Li 李敏
Cast: Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Jordan Chan 陳小春; Chapman To 杜汶澤; Spirit Blue 賈宗超; Teresa Mo 毛舜筠; Candy Lo 盧巧音; Tiffany Lee 李蘢怡; Marsha Yuen 原子鏸; Tony Leung Ka-Fai 梁家輝; Sandra Ng 吳君如; Maria Cordero 瑪利亞; Nat Chan 陳百祥; Donna Chu 朱潔儀; Jim Chim 詹瑞文; Lam Suet 林雪; Stephanie Che 車婉婉; Eric Kot 葛民輝; Annabelle Lau 劉曉彤
Time: 99 min
Lang: Cantonese, some Mandarin
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2015

All About Love (再説一次我愛你)

all about love

I would have been satisfied with a Return to Me remake. The 2000 American romantic comedy is about a woman with a heart transplant who begins dating her donor’s husband. It’s a stretch but believable within its own narrative boundaries. All About Love has the slight beginnings of a similar story. Dr. Ko (Andy Lau) and Tze-Ching (Charlene Choi) are happily married, though he doesn’t spend as much time as he should with her owing to his work. She dies within the first five minutes of the film, and Sam (Charlie Yeung) receives Tze-Ching’s heart. After her husband abandons her, she begins seeing Dr. Ko.

Except it’s not so simple and not nearly as romantic. In fact, large chunks of the movie don’t make sense and are downright creepy. For one, you have to believe that Andy Lau and Charlene Choi are a loving couple, despite their Woody Allen-esque age gap. Everything stems from the fact that this doctor is mad for his barely out of uni wife who whines and can’t enunciate (see every Twins-era Choi film).

If you buy that, you still have to accept that six years later Dr. Ko, now a forlorn paramedic, happens to attend to Sam when she gets in a car accident and somehow senses that she is the recipient of his wife’s heart. How does he know this? Probably super-psychic powers; he performs magic tricks after all. He confirms this with her doctor (Anthony Wong), thereby breaking all sorts of patient confidentiality codes. Due to his connection with Sam/Tze-Ching/Tze-Ching’s heart, he essentially stalks her as a way of reconnecting with his wife. He even goes so far as to break into her house and thumb through her diary.

The most bizarre element of this story though is that Sam’s husband Derek is a dead ringer for Dr. Ko. In other words, two Andy Laus for the price of one. Like Dr. Ko, Derek is successful at his job in the modeling industry and also doesn’t have much time to spare for his wife. Unlike Dr. Ko, however, Derek has a temper and may not be a committed husband; he also sports sleazy facial hair. His actions quite literally cause Sam heartache. The good doctor sees a chance to atone for his past and passes himself off as Derek, a move that has fueled many a serial killer film.

I hesitate to laugh at or so roundly trounce a story that is this committed to loss and grief. Dr. Ko is punishing in his solitude, refusing to take any pleasure in life, even after Tze-Ching’s parents (Hui Siu-Hung and Gigi Wong) have moved on. But in addition to the improbabilities of the script, the direction is just too heavy handed to nurture any genuine feelings. Lau treats the movie like an extended music video and carries his character on the intensity of his sad, distant stares. Choi’s youthful effervescence adds some joy, but that is offset by Yeung, who limps around like a perpetually wronged and helpless woman.

The directors don’t give their characters much chance to open up and instead weigh them down with oppressive camerawork. They keep the lens moving with excessive pans, but images crawl numbingly across the screen, often accompanied by mawkish piano strains. The narrative is also interrupted by shots that don’t mean anything (mostly of water dripping in slow motion and Lau’s latest edition CYMA timepiece) except poor attempts to add visual flair. All About Love should be used as an example of how overwhelming and ineffective a film can be when every frame is seared with pain and regret. Sometimes a lighter touch can be far more profound.

“Say You Love Me Once More” (再説一次我愛你) by Andy Lau:

Released: 2005
Prod: Daniel Yu 余偉國; Yan Min-Jun 閻敏軍
Dir: Daniel Yu 余偉國; Lee Kung-Lok 李公樂
Writer: Daniel Yu 余偉國; Lee Kung-Lok 李公樂
Cast: Andy Lau 劉德華; Charlie Yeung 楊采妮; Charlene Choi 蔡卓妍; Allen Lin 林依輪; Anthony Wong 黃秋生; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Gigi Wong 黃淑儀; Lam Suet 林雪; Amber Xu 胥力文; Sasha Hou 侯莎莎
Time: 87 min
Lang: Cantonese, some Mandarin
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2015

Love on a Diet (瘦身男女)

love on a diet

There’s a warmth at the core of this movie about two large loners who find friendship and a suitable exercise plan. It capitalizes on the chemistry between Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng in Needing You (2000), also directed by Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai, and the two actors don’t miss a beat as a pair of hesitant companions who are a bit socially, emotionally, and culturally out of their depth.

Mini (Cheng) is more pitiable having eaten her way to the top of the scale during the absence of her classical musician boyfriend, Kurokawa (Rikiya Kurokawa). By the time he returns to Japan, she’s gotten so big that she can’t bring herself to see him and has taken to stalking him at his concerts. When she learns that he still holds a flame for her and wants to meet up at their special place, she renews her commitment to slim down. To do that, she enlists the help of another expat, Fatso (Lau), a knife seller on the long road to nowhere. He’s in no mood to have Mini leeching about, but despite his initial reservations, he agrees to help out his fellow Hong Konger.

It’s easy to guess where all that weight loss leads to; after all it’s in the title. Light romantic comedy is Cheng’s milieu, and she fills her character with the right amount of exuberance to keep the picture afloat while also giving Mini enough of a dejected air to lend the movie some emotional weight. Cheng loses points for some truly insufferable whining, however. On the whole, Lau comes off better, and he seems to act with greater freedom when he doesn’t have the burden of looking like Andy Lau. Buried beneath layers of rubber, he is a vulnerable soul who does his best to hide behind a sturdy exterior. Lau makes it easy to warm up to Fatso and see beyond the physical.

And the movie does sort of get at that idea that beauty comes from within. But the message gets muddled when most of the laughs depend on Mini’s efforts to, well, look like Sammi Cheng. Being big is apparently funny. Indeed, much of the novelty is in seeing Hong Kong’s two hottest stars bouncing around in fat suits. You’re supposed to laugh when Mini eats a tapeworm or collapses on gym equipment. She and Fatso look funny squeezing into a tiny car or stuffing their faces, though the humor in the latter come from the visibly fake rubber hands. You want the two to slim down, not so much to improve their health as to improve their chances at love. It’s too bad because Fatso and Mini are appealing characters, but ones we laugh at as much as we laugh with.

“Lifelong Beauty” (終身美麗) theme song by Sammi Cheng:

“My Fat Companion” (我的胖侶) by Andy Lau:

Released: 2001
Prod: Johnnie To 杜琪峰; Wai Ka-Fai 韋家輝; Tiffany Chen 陳明英
Dir: Johnnie To 杜琪峰; Wai Ka-Fai 韋家輝
Writer: Wai Ka-Fai 韋家輝; Yau Nai-Hoi 游乃海
Cast: Andy Lau 劉德華; Sammi Cheng 鄭秀文; Wong Tin-Lam 王天林; Lam Suet 林雪; Rikiya Kurokawa 黑川力矢; Keiji Sato 佐膝佳次; Asuka Higuchi 通口明日嘉
Time: 95 min
Lang: Cantonese, Japanese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014