Niki Chow Lai-Kei

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

Diva…Ah Hey (下一站…天后)

diva ah hey

On the face of it, this looks like another early Twins hit – frivolous, chirpy, forgettable, and while it’s certainly not a soaring achievement, you’ll be forgiven for remembering it fondly. Besides spawning a massive hit song of the same title, Diva…Ah Hey! turns out to be a crowd pleaser that actually has some positive things to say about Hong Kong’s teenage girls.

For starters, Ah Hey (Charlene Choi) is not a diva at all. The only child of a fishmonger (Lam Suet), she seeks to make her mark in the world by dipping her toes in the rough waters of the entertainment industry. She has an in with Harry (Jordan Chan), a family friend who manages rising star Shadow (Niki Chow). The company doesn’t have the resources to support new artists, so Ah Hey patiently bides her time, happy to tag along as Harry’s assistant and learn the ropes.

The gloss of show business quickly fades, and Ah Hey learns that few things are what they seem. Things come to a head when the company forces Shadow into a singing career, something explicitly written out of her contract. She can’t carry a note and instead harbors secret ambitions of being a stand-up comedian. In frustration, Harry enlists Ah Hey to sing in Shadow’s place. But the gamble backfires when the record becomes a hit, and they are forced to continue with the deception.

Most people would cry foul, and then take the story to the gossip rags. But Ah Hey is a thoroughly decent person, kind beyond her years. She sees the quartet, which includes driver Wing (Shawn Yue), as a family, and wants them not just to coexist peacefully but to love and support one another. Though Ah Hey knows she’s giving up her chance at a singing career, she’s willing to take a backseat if it means helping Shadow.

Choi is not a great actress here, but her energy and youthful optimism overcome what she lacks in experience. Ah Hey is a delightful character, and Choi turns her idealism into something refreshing and contagious. Her friends truly take her words to heart and care for her and each other. The relationship she shares with Harry is especially pleasing to watch, and I enjoyed the way Chan showed a fatherly affection to her beneath his gruff exterior. For once, a young woman is taken seriously and her hopefulness treated with honesty rather than mocking.

The warm hearted characters are a curious contrast to the plot itself, however, which functions almost as an exposé on the entertainment industry. On its own, the story is about Ah Hey’s good nature triumphing over a duplicitous business. But as a product of EEG, one wonders if the starlet factory is shooting itself in the foot or just telling it like it is. Judging by the movie, the system looks terrible. The company cuts down its young artists, molding them into whatever product they want to push instead of nurturing their talents. At every level, business concerns trump those of music and art. Others also prove that kindness is a liability and that secrecy and selfishness are the regular tools of the trade.

One might accuse EEG, known for their aggressive maneuvering, of employing similar tactics. A quick look at their lineup of so-called singers and actors at the time will show you how invested they were in developing talent. (I mean, have you heard Yumiko Cheng sing?) It’s also ironic that years later, Chow would also record an album that, if we are honest, might have used a little help from Ah Hey. There’s a lot of blame to go around for the miserable state of Hong Kong entertainment, and it’s not clear if the movie is trying to be subversive and attack from within. Maybe the point is it doesn’t matter; Diva…Ah Hey has given the city an absorbing 100 minutes and a durable karaoke song.

“Diva…Ah Hey” (or literally “Next Stop…Tin Hau”) by Twins:

“Chauffeur” (“司機”) by Shawn Yue:

Released: 2003
Prod: Joe Ma 馬偉豪; Ivy Kong 江玉儀
Dir: Joe Ma 馬偉豪
Writer: Joe Ma 馬偉豪; Matt Chow 鄒凱光; Sunny Chan 陳詠燊
Cast: Charlene Choi 蔡卓妍; Jordan Chan 陳小春; Niki Chow 周麗琪; Shawn Yue 余文樂; Chapman To 杜汶澤; Lam Suet 林雪; Belinda Hamnett 韓君婷; Lo Meng 羅莽; Wyman Wong 黃偉文; Hyper BB 茜利妹; Hayama Hiro 葉山豪; Courtney Wu 利沙華
Time: 100 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

Dummy Mommy Without a Baby (玉女添丁)

There must be a Discovery Health show about women who fake pregnancies, and I imagine reactions would include generous doses of condemnation, anger, and betrayal. Sympathy in these cases is best left for another series. But in Hong Kong, one can make an entire movie out of this deception with the end goal of championing the swindler, even – or especially – if that person happens to be Miriam Yeung.

In this unconventional underdog story, Fong Lai-Kuen (not to be confused with Yeung’s character of the same name in the Love Undercover series) feigns her pregnancy after getting the pink slip at her advertising firm. According to a curious Hong Kong law, a pregnant employee cannot be fired for a period of 10 months, so Kuen milks her new status for all it’s worth and enlists her good friend and colleague Dina (Niki Chow) to aid in the cover-up. The two try to use this stunt to get back at their villainous boss Monica (Pauline Yam), though most people would probably see Monica as a reasonably demanding superior with exceptional standards. Kuen is redeemed and the mean boss is put in her place when an actual expectant mother and athletic wear company owner Mrs. Ho (Eileen Cha) selects Kuen’s ad campaign for the Beijing Olympics. Mrs. Ho also chooses Kuen as the spokesperson because hey, moms-to-be buy basketball jerseys too. Their partnership leads to some close calls that we will call comedy, such as one involving a poolside ultrasound. Similar cheap and predictable laughs follow.

Amidst this set of hijinks is a chaste three way between Kuen, Dina, and Ming (Edison Chen), the big boss’s son. Edison is as inoffensive as possible here, thus making Ming a palatable, even compassionate, character. It also helps that Ming wants to be a pastry chef instead of an ad exec. Swoon. When he learns of Kuen’s impending single motherhood, he immediately offers her free room and board at his mansion, which she shamelessly accepts. Their relationship is purely platonic, however, which means Dina can chase Ming and preserve her friendship with Kuen.

But at some point, this caper is bound to implode, and when even Edison is put off by your bad behavior, you know you’ve crossed the line. The exuberance of Miss Yeung and Miss Chow is not enough to compensate for their characters’ misdeeds. As witness to their trail of manipulation, fraud, and assault, I found myself cheering more for these ladies to land in Stanley than to cleverly claw their way out of their own mess. If the filmmakers were aiming for a cynical yet humorous critique on Hong Kong’s working conditions, then Miriam Yeung, at this stage in her career, was not the most convincing casting choice.

Prod: Joe Ma Wai-Ho 馬偉豪; Ivy Kong Yuk-Yee 江玉儀
Dir: Joe Ma Wai-Ho 馬偉豪; Albert Mak Kai-Kwong 麥啟光
Writer: Joe Ma Wai-Ho 馬偉豪; Taures Chow Yin-Han 周燕嫻; Sunny Chan Wing-Sun 陳詠燊; Law Yiu-Fai 羅耀輝; So Bo-Ling 蘇寶玲
Cast: Miriam Yeung Chin-Wah 楊千嬅; Edison Chen Koon-Hei 陳冠希; Niki Chow Lai-Kei 周麗琪; Pauline Yam Bo-Lam 任葆琳; Eileen Cha Siu-Yan 查小欣; Wyman Wong Wai-Man 黃偉文; Sammy Leung 森美; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Cheung Tat-Ming 張達明; Moses Chan Ho 陳豪
Time: 90 min
Lang: Cantonese
Reviewed: 2012