Maria Cordero

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

Look for a Star (游龍戲鳳)

look for a star

There are three improbable relationships at work in Look for a Star, all of which cross some social boundaries of class, gender, wealth, age, or education and none of which are engaging enough on their own. Three definitely makes a crowd though as this picture struggles to accommodate each couple.

The bulk of the story falls on Andy Lau and Shu Qi. Lau plays Sam Ching, a thrice divorced millionaire and property developer who’s been snatching up land all through Macau. Milan, played by Shu Qi, holds a pretty low opinion of Mr. Ching for turning her city into an overdeveloped playground, but there’s not much she can do as a baccarat dealer and nightclub club dancer. After a sequence of events not fully made clear by the narrative, the two start dating, except Sam withholds his true identity. Anyone can see this isn’t a wise decision, but filmmakers deem it necessary to progress to a second act.

Sam’s second-in-command, Jo (Denise Ho), also gets some action with the help of her boss, but when the initial set-up doesn’t go as planned, she finds herself on the receiving end of some unwanted attention from a polite but clingy migrant worker Jiu (Zhang Hanyu). Chauffeur Tim (Dominic Lam) tries his luck in love as well. Sam arranges for him to go on a date with Shannon (Zhang Xinyi), who seems a perfect match except that she is also a single mother, thus failing to tick off all the right boxes on his list.

It’s an ambitious slate and you get the sense that the filmmakers want to go somewhere deeper with their material. The third act is a blustery show of commentaries on love and compatibility and comes in the form of an incredulous matchmaking program hosted by Cheung Tat-Ming. He (cruelly) highlights the extreme social divide that separates each pair of lovers, and it’s an attempt to expose what some see as the superficial barriers that thwart true love. At the same time, Milan gives an honest but brief perspective on the reality of relationships characterized by such differences.

I’m not a great admirer of Shu Qi’s work, and some of her earlier scenes – dancing by herself in an elevator, performing a kittenish can can – seem to be inserted to up her coquettish appeal. But she really captures her character’s dignity and humiliation after becoming tabloid fodder and the subject of scrutiny by Sam’s company. Zhang Hanyu also commands attention in his small role. He has a quiet but intense magnetism that makes his character understandably appealing.

It’s too bad then that Jiu’s relationship with Jo wasn’t given greater focus. Their pairing is touching but, like most of the emotions in this movie, not lasting. Look for a Star is weighed down by chatty conversations that want to take on more importance than they actually do, leaving the film to start a discussion that stalls shortly thereafter.

“I Do” by Andy Lau and Shu Qi:

Released: 2009
Prod: Andrew Lau 劉偉強
Dir: Andrew Lau 劉偉強
Writer: Theresa Tang 鄧潔明; James Yuen 阮世生
Cast: Andy Lau 劉德華; Shu Qi 舒淇; Denise Ho 何韻詩; Zhang Hanyu 張涵予; Dominic Lam 林嘉華; Zhang Xinyi 張歆藝; Cheung Tat-Ming 張達明; David Chiang 姜大衛; Maria Cordero 瑪利亞; George Lam 林子祥; Raymond Cho 曹永廉; Monie Tung 董敏莉; Rebecca Pan 潘迪華; Ella Koon 官恩娜; Terence Yin 尹子維; Tony Ho 何華超
Time: 117 min
Lang: Cantonese, Mandarin, and some English
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2015