Law Kar-Ying

Mack the Knife (流氓醫生)

mack the knife 2

Mack the Knife has the meandering plot of an extended TV serial, and it takes its time going places, if indeed it is going anywhere at all. There’s no driving narrative behind this drama; instead, the movie relies on the strength of its characters to sustain its 100 minute running time. The cast and writers largely do a good job of it, but those wanting more than talking heads will prefer other options.

Star Tony Leung Chiu-Wai does most of the heavy lifting as the unorthodox Dr. Mack Lau who runs a clinic in a seedier part of town. He doesn’t care much for the prestige of his profession and shares an easy rapport with those on the margins who make up his patients and neighbors. These are petty thieves, young women who seek a quick abortion, and old folks who just need to pass their time. Leung has the grungy, unshaven appearance of someone who needs a cold shower, which helps him look the part, but he also slips easily into the role with a deft combination of humor, recalcitrance, and sober awareness.

Besides his patients, Mack’s main interactions are with his friend, Chiu (Lau Ching-Wan), a police officer with a similarly lackadaisical approach to his job. Chiu’s primary dilemma is his entanglement with a Mainland prostitute, a plot device that hardly gets a new airing. And while Lau lends his character real affection, this storyline is too put on from him to overcome.

That leaves Andy Hui as the idealistic Dr. Sam So, a Médecins Sans Frontières type who dives into the shittiest urban clinic he can find the day after graduation. Hui is perky and naive enough to make his mostly one-sided romance with a cancer patient (Hilary Tsui) believable if a little hackneyed, but I found Sam’s dynamic with the seasoned Mack more interesting to watch as the realities of the profession become more pronounced for the young doctor. Alex To provides additional counterweight as Mack’s rival, Dr. Roger Jor, a slick surgeon who overcompensates because his skills in the operating room don’t match Mack’s. A love triangle featuring Christy Chung and a Merchant Ivory-like garden party also heightens Roger’s jealousy.

With its web of doctors, patients, police officers, criminals, and lovers, Mack has echoes of TVB’s classic show Healing Hands, though this movie predates it by a few years (both boast a very loungy 90s jazz soundtrack, however). Leung’s performance in particular gives significance to the mundane, but ultimately, the film is too static to have a lasting effect.

(The poster below does not approximate the tone of this movie.)

mack the knife

“Crazy” by Tony Leung:

Released: 1993
Alt Title: Dr. Mack
Prod: Lee Chi-Ngai 李志毅
Dir: Lee Chi-Ngai 李志毅
Writer: Lee Chi-Ngai 李志毅
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai 梁朝偉; Lau Ching-Wan 劉青雲; Andy Hui 許志安; Christy Chung 鍾麗緹; Alex To 杜德偉; Hilary Tsui 徐濠縈; Eileen Tung 童愛玲; Law Kar-Ying 羅家英; Gigi Leung 梁詠琪; Richard Ng 吳耀漢; Jordan Chan 陳小春; Lawrence Ng 吳啟華; Wong Hei 王喜; Wyman Wong 黃偉文; Jerry Lamb 林曉峰
Time: 99 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

Osaka Wrestling Restaurant (大阪撻一餐)

osaka wrestling restaurant

This movie turns out to be a satisfying treat for weary Hong Kong filmgoers. The industry offers far tastier morsels, but this one is made with lots of heart and that should count for something these days. Timmy Hung and Wayne Lai team up as brothers who cook up an idea for a novelty restaurant after their father, a respected chef, dies and leaves them a large inheritance.

Ricky (Hung) starts out as a glorified kitchen boy at Dragon’s (Law Kar-Ying) restaurant. Everyone heaps on the abuse, and when he gets the chance, he escapes to find his brother, Mike (Lai), who has been working as a chef in Osaka. Despite Mike’s bravado, Ricky can see that things aren’t going so well for his big brother. He gets chased out of his flat when some people come to settle a score, and his estranged wife wants to remarry and relocate their son to Canada.

Since Mike is a fan of Japanese wrestling, he decides to open a themed restaurant in Hong Kong staffed with wrestlers who will serve as waiters and dine-in entertainment. Presumably no one will object to a little sweat sprinkled onto their food. He ends up with a small gang of oddities including a sumo wrestler and someone named Louis Koo. They also hire Kyoko (Ueno Miku), a Japanese reporter stranded in Hong Kong after being fired when someone pushed her into the sea. That someone turns out to be a remorseful Ricky, who dons his wrestling mask to hide his identity. Something about that masked avenger look makes him attractive to Kyoko and sets the couple up for a doomed romance.

Hung isn’t particularly charismatic onscreen, but he has the pleading face of someone whom you’re willing to give a second chance. Lai brings more weight to his role and minimizes the overacting, revealing some touching moments beneath Mike’s boisterous façade. Both do their best to balance sincerity with the movie’s daffy humor, of which there is a lot. Besides bouncing, iridescent clothed wrestlers, Dragon dreams up some low budget schemes to sabotage the restaurant, which is located across the street from his. It’s all a bit of unpretentious fun, akin to a cinematic tea time snack.

Released: 2004
Prod: Sam Leong 梁德森; Yoshida Haruhiko; Matsuyama Hiroshi
Dir: Tommy Law 羅惠德
Writer: Hasegawa Takashi; Ko Cheng-Teng 高井聽; Kamei Noboru; Suzuki Rikako
Cast: Timmy Hung 洪天明; Wayne Lai 黎耀祥; Ueno Miko; Law Kar-Ying 羅家英; Sammo Hung 洪金寶; Tats Lau 劉以達; Chin Ka-Lok 錢嘉樂; Gloria Yip 葉蘊儀; Sam Lee 李燦森; Carlo Ng 吳嘉樂
Time: 92 min
Lang: Cantonese, Japanese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

The Shopaholics (最愛女人購物狂)

shopaholics

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that The Shopaholics is the title of a Hong Kong movie. A little self-reflection never hurt anyone, and Chinese New Year is as good a time as any for a humorous satire on the city’s love of shopping. But just as one must deal with the consequences of blowing thousands on an LV bag, one must accept the pain and shame of squandering 90 minutes on this tedious, mind-numbing film, which offers very little in satire and even less in humor.

Fong Fong-Fong (Cecilia Cheung) is a familiar creature on the Hong Kong scene; she’s never seen a luxury item that she doesn’t love, the effect of being abandoned in a mall when she was a baby. This left her crippled by an obsessive shopping disease, and her flat looks like something out of a high class Hoarders episode. During one of her shopping sprees, she meets Dr. Choosey Lee (Lau Ching-Wan), who specializes in treating people with Fong-Fong’s disorder and who cruelly runs his practice from inside a mall. But while he’s trying to curb people’s spending habits, he suffers from a severe case of indecisiveness that turns even those most mundane situations into agonizing ordeals.

One side effect is his relationship with lovesick Ding Ding-Dong (Ella Koon), which was scuppered by the reappearance of two exes. Just as Fong-Fong and Choosey start to feel attracted to one another, Ding-Dong shows up and he again faces an impossible task. Does he want to be with an irresponsible spendthrift or a insecure cheapskate who also threatens to jump to her death every time she’s unhappy? The love triangle gets more crowded when Fong-Fong runs into bagillionaire Richie Ho (Jordan Chan). He is a kindred spirit with a bad habit of buying everything he doesn’t want. But his tightfisted father has also impressed on him the importance of saving, and Richie vacillates between these two personalities.

There are a few moments of social commentary that serve to explain this wackiness. Several characters assert that such debilitating illnesses are due to the high stress of living in Hong Kong. Besides these cases of ‘shopaholism’ and ‘decidophobia’, they also suffer from gambling, narcolepsy, and unrestrained cursing. The characters are so nutty though that they don’t resemble anyone you would know in real life. They spend most of their time doing crazy things that emphasize their social quirk, even as they collectively attempt to heal themselves. What they really need is a less stressful environment – relaxed working hours, a patched up social safety net, fewer shopping malls.

Instead, the movie suggests that love and marriage will do the trick. That’s a fine message for a Chinese New Year film, but the final scene is really an extended, humorless descent into silliness. Fong-Fong, Choosey, Ding-Dong, and Richie have decided to marry but cannot decide how to partner up. Dr. Phoenix Luk (Paula Tsui), a psychiatrist and queen shopaholic, takes control and sends the four wedding parties running around the city and switching places to try and suss out who likes whom. The characters quickly find out it’s not all fun and games, nor is it enjoyable for the audience. The rapid fire chase is not amusing or clever but exhausting, never mind that the women are being played as pawns. That’s no matter; as long as Hong Kongers are a little batty, someone’s going to laugh about it.

Released: 2006
Prod: Wai Ka-Fai 韋家輝; Yang Ying 楊英
Dir: Wai Ka-Fai 韋家輝
Writer: Wai Ka-Fai 韋家輝; Au Kin-Yee 歐健兒
Cast: Cecilia Cheung 張柏芝; Lau Ching-Wan 劉青雲; Jordan Chan 陳小春; Ella Koon 官恩娜; Paula Tsui 徐小鳳; Law Kar-Ying 羅家英; Ha Chun-Chau 夏春秋; Wong Tin-Lam 王天林; Maggie Siu 邵美琪; Stephanie Che 車婉婉; Amy Kwok 郭藹明
Time: 93 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014