Tats Lau Yi-Dat

McDull, the Alumni (春田花花同學會)

mcdull the alumni

“Magnificently unprepared for the long littleness of life,” reads a line from Alan Bennett’s award winning play The History Boys. The sentiment applies to a good many people and situations, though usually not to a Chinese New Year film and not to one starring a cartoon pig. The festive comedies are better known for riotous gags and irreverent humor than for evoking existential angst. But like previous movies in the McDull franchise, this one couches sober self-reflection in the whimsy of Alice Mak’s animation.

The little porker’s third big screen outing still bears some trademarks of a New Year’s film. There are cameos aplenty and it is rich in local flavor. A drinking game with mentions of BBQ pork rice would end badly. It’s also fun and funny, something you can watch with the kids. Chances are, you’ll be more offended by the toilet humor than they are. And that’s pretty much the dividing line for the film’s audience. I don’t mean that the movie separates those who have a preoccupation with the call of nature with those who do not, but I suspect that children are watching an entirely different film than adults.

McDull, the Alumni has no discernable plot. The nearest thing to one is a hostage crisis on Chinese New Year’s Eve and the upcoming almost-50th anniversary of the Springfield Blossom Kindergarten. Since the movie is told in vignettes, the story allows for gags aplenty, many of which involve food. Diners at the famous Jumbo floating restaurant in Aberdeen stuff themselves silly and make unintelligible sounds while trying to order more grub, and a hungry office worker (Jaycee Chan) uses the heat generated by his computer to poach an egg.

Beneath the silliness, however, lies a bittersweet message about success, particularly a Hong Kong brand of it that includes a flashy title and a feeling of self-importance. Springfield’s hot pot reunion dinner gives the principal (Anthony Wong) and teacher Miss Chan (The Pancakes) cause to teach the students about becoming pillars of society. At the same time, one of the school’s graduates, May (Zhou Bichang, aka Bibi Chow), reflects on her life choices when she is taken hostage.

The children, rather farm animals’, hopes and candid observations are amusing, but their innocence also disguises piercing truths. A recent graduate (Isabella Leong) rushes to a BBQ shop hoping to be be hired as a rice scooper. What the boss (Christopher Doyle) really needs is a chicken chopper, and her miscalculation of the job market nearly costs her the job. Poor McDull, never the brightest pig on the block, meanwhile decides he wants to be an OL (office lady) when he grows up because he doesn’t have to wear pants. He finds himself in a bind when he decides he also wants to eat shark fin soup. He briefly considers a future as a doctor or lawyer since they can always afford the delicacy.

McDull, the Alumni is not as strong as the first two films, but it leaves you with the same mix of melancholy and tempered optimism. Mixing the animation with live action turns out to be hit and miss. The cavalcade of stars does distract and comes off as gimmicky, but Zhou, winner of the Mainland’s Super Girl singing contest and the least glamorous and famous of the actors, captures the film’s tone the best. She isn’t very expressive but has a shy, bewildered look that is right for the part, conveying the overwhelming feeling of a woman who has left the pastels and security of youth for good.

“Fing Fing吓” by The Pancakes (“We have to work OT because we didn’t really work before 6 o’clock…..”):

Released: 2006
Prod: Peter Chan 陳可辛; Jojo Hui 許月珍; Brian Tse 謝立文
Dir: Samson Chiu 趙良駿
Writer: Brian Tse 謝立文
Cast: Ronald Cheng 鄭中基; Anthony Wong 黃秋生; Gigi Leung 梁詠琪; Sandra Ng 吳君如; Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Bibi Chow 周筆暢Chen Bolin 陳柏霖; Josie Ho 何超儀; Kelly Chen 陳慧琳; Jaycee Chan 房祖名Shawn Yue 余文樂Miki Yeung 楊愛瑾Jan Lamb 林海峰Francis Ng 吳鎮宇; Cheung Tat-Ming 張達明; Nicholas Tse 謝霆鋒Michael Miu 苗僑偉; Tats Lau 劉以達Alex Fong Lik-Sun 方力申Andrew Lin 連凱Daniel Wu 吳彥祖Terence Yin 尹子維Conroy Chan 陳子聰Isabella Leong 梁洛施Jim Chim 詹瑞文; Teresa Fu 傅穎Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Wayne Lai 黎耀祥; Eddie Cheung 張兆輝Yip Wing-Sze 葉詠詩; Hong Kong Sinfonietta; Wong Yau-Nam 黃又南Christopher Doyle 杜可風; Chet Lam 林一峰; John Shum 岑建勳; Kary Ng 吳雨霏; Jane Zhang 張靚穎
Time: 91 min
Lang: Cantonese, some English
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

I Love Hong Kong 2012 (2012我愛HK喜上加囍)

i love hk 2012

The Mayan doomsday prophecy generated plenty of headlines and inspired a slew of apocalyptic disaster movies in 2012, and it curiously underlines this fluffy Chinese New Year film. The approaching armageddon motivates the characters to realize the importance of family and, matched with a bag of laughs and a bundle of television stars, makes for a standard holiday film.

Though it shares a title with TVB’s 2011 CNY effort, the two are unrelated and I Love Hong Kong 2012 fails to live up to its predecessor. This one is a messy affair that lacks a coherent plot to drive its message home. Like the previous year’s film, Stanley Fung stars as the family patriarch. Kwok Ching is a longtime weather reporter for the local television station, and some scenes might remind you of the CNY classic It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World). At work, he locks horns with his boss and one-time classmate, Kei Yee (Siu Yam-Yam), and at home, he oversees the lives of his three children – eldest daughter and lawyer Kwok Mei-Mei (Teresa Mo), who is married to Yao Ming (Eric Tsang, not Yao Ming), tomboyish middle child Kwok Ching-Ching (Denise Ho, not Guo Jing Jing), and youngest son and cameraman Aaron Kwok (6 Wing, not Aaron Kwok) – and brother San (Evergreen Mak).

The family’s personal and professional trials are subject to a revolving door of jokes and gags, the enjoyment of which depends largely on your knowledge of Cantonese and local news and gossip. The Hong Kong Observatory comes under fire and Mainland mothers crowding the city’s maternity wards also take a hit. Some of the best laughs come from a parody of the 2011 Taiwanese smash You are the Apple of My Eye between Ching and Kei Yee as they reflect on their youth and the present. Another moment that simultaneously elicits howls of joy and shrieks of horror comes when Mei-Mei and Ming, who are having trouble conceiving, try to get it on by dressing up in various form-fitting attire. Some people think it’s funny to see Eric Tsang wear spandex superhero costumes; some do not.

Everyone is absorbed in their own little orbit, and the camera flits into each character’s life just long enough to establish a conflict and make a few wisecracks before flying off again. So when the threat of annihilation comes to the fore, there’s a confusing urgency to everyone’s problems. Mei-Mei and Ming’s testy relationship is complicated when their sponsored daughter (Natalie Meng) arrives, having grown into a beautiful, busty young woman. Ching-Ching must decide whether she wants to marry her boyfriend (Bosco Wong), an effeminate grocery store salesperson, and in the process try to reconcile her boyish looks and behavior with her father’s gender expectations. The greatest burden though might fall on little Aaron Kwok, whose love for property/entertainment magnate’s lover (William So and Viann Zhang, respectively) pits him against all those monopolizing barons who are crushing the little people.

The jumble of stray plotlines eventually comes together and is resolved in a way so that all things are made clear and put at peace when you think the world will end. Despite humorous performances especially by Mo and a leather-clad E02, the movie doesn’t earn its good will. Nevertheless, you will probably leave the theatre, or your DVD player, or your illegal streaming site, with a warm feeling in your heart.

“Amazing Grace” (明日恩典) by Joey Yung

Released: 2012
Prod: Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Peter Tsi 戚家基
Dir: Wilson Chin 錢國偉; Chung Shu-Kai 鍾澍佳
Writer: Peter Tsi 戚家基; Kwok Kin-Lok 郭建樂; Michelle Tsui 徐敏琳
Cast: Stanley Fung 馮淬帆; Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Teresa Mo 毛舜筠; Denise Ho 何韻詩; Bosco Wong 黃宗澤; Evergreen Mak 麥長青; 6 Wing 陸永; William So 蘇永康; Viann Zhang 張馨予; Siu Yam-Yam 邵音音; Christine Kuo 苟芸慧; Maggie Siu 邵美琪; Ding Yue 丁羽; Mimi Chu 朱咪咪; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; King Kong 金剛; Bob Lam 林盛斌; Jess Shum 沈卓盈; Tats Lau 劉以達; Eliza Sam 岑麗香; Alfred Cheung 張堅庭; Natalie Meng 孟瑤; Samantha Ko 高海寧; Tenky Tin 田啟文; Otto Wong 王志安; Eddie Pang 彭懷安; Eric Tse 謝凱榮; Osman Hung 洪智傑; Celine Ma 馬蹄露; Matthew Ko 高鈞賢; Liu Fan 魯芬; Yu Miu-Lin 余慕蓮; Sire Ma 馬賽; Cilla Kung 樂瞳; Jacqueline Chong 莊思敏; Raymond Chiu 趙永洪; Matt Chow 鄒凱光; Han Jin 陳奐仁; Louis Yuen 阮兆祥; Mak Ling Ling 麥玲玲; Stephanie Che 車婉婉; Gill Mohindepaul Singh 喬寶寶
Time: 95 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