Wong Cho-Lam

I Love Hong Kong (我愛HK開心萬歲)

i love hk

I Love Hong Kong lives up to its title, showing great holiday affection for the city and the salt of the earth folks who live there. A respectable follow-up to the previous Chinese New Year’s hit 72 Tenants of Prosperity, this movie delivers a warmhearted message about community that comes wrapped in layers of laughter, nostalgia, and product placement. This TVB production is also top heavy with local television actors, but the station opts for true screen stars Tony Leung Ka-Fai and Sandra Ng to generate a hefty festive buzz.

Leung and Ng play parents to Ming (Aarif Lee), Chi (Mag Lam), and King (Chan Wing-Lam), and life is all fun and games until hard economic times brings big changes to their lives. Shun, a toy manufacturer, finds his factory shut down, so he decides to move the family back to the public housing estate where his father (Stanley Fung) still lives. But this ends up literally cramping everyone’s style.

Though Shun praises the virtues of being close to extended family and having trustworthy estate friends nearby, no one cares for this arrangement. Shun’s Wife (she doesn’t have a name but is simply known as ‘Shun’s wife’) escapes by returning to work at a beauty clinic, only to find herself demoted and taking orders from a haughty and much younger, taller, slimmer superior (Koni Lui). His son, a cog in the Food and Health Department machine, objects to living next to the stall owners he’s tasked with reprimanding, and even Shun’s father prefers having his flat to himself, where he has space enough for two TVs – a bigger one for TVB and a smaller one for that other station.

It’s Shun’s turn to feel upset though when his former friend Lung (Eric Tsang) reappears. He still holds a grudge from their youth after some funds went missing and wonders if Lung is just here to pull another scam or if he really wants to help out the struggling tenants. The power of flashback not only fleshes out their relationship and helps the audience appreciate the values of council estate living, it also gives a boatload of fresh faced TVB actors a chance to play younger versions of the characters (Bosco Wong as Shun, Wong Cho-Lam as Lung, Kate Tsui and Joyce Cheng as the bread store twins).

The gimmick aids plot development but also strengthens the message of Hong Kongers coming together to fight off the wealthy and corrupt, something we apparently did better thirty years ago. By the time the movie reaches its forced climax, you’ll be cheering on the small potatoes of this idyllic housing estate as they take on officials and developers who threaten their community and simple way of life. Hell, you might even want to live in a housing estate after you see their polished quarters. Zany side plots made funnier with a knowledge of Cantonese and Hong Kong gossip top off this stocking stuffer of a film, but the overall effort works regardless. It’s one you won’t mind revisiting next Chinese New Year’s.

“Always Friends” (始終都係朋友好) performed by the cast:

“I Love Hong Kong” performed by Aarif Lee and Mag Lam. Video not available but inspired by “Kowloon, Hong Kong” by the Reynettes:

Released: 2011
Prod: Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Jason Siu 邵劍秋
Dir: Chung Shu-Kai 鍾澍佳; Eric Tsang 曾志偉
Writer: Chung Shu-Kai 鍾澍佳; Helward Mak 麥曦茵; Wong Yeung-Tat 黃洋達
Cast: Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Tony Leung Ka-Fai 梁家輝; Sandra Ng 吳君如; Aarif Lee 李治廷; Mag Lam 林欣彤; Chan Wing-Lam 陳穎嵐; Stanley Fung 馮淬帆; Anita Yuen 袁詠儀; Fala Chen 陳法拉; Wu Ma 午馬; Wong Cho-Lam 王祖藍; Bosco Wong 黃宗澤; Jess Shum 沈卓盈; Liu Kai-Chi 廖啟智; Wayne Lai 黎耀祥; Maggie Cheung Ho-Yee 張可頤; Alfred Cheung 張堅庭; Louis Yuen 阮兆祥; Michelle Lo 盧覓雪; Kate Tsui 徐子珊 Joyce Cheng 鄭欣宜; JJ Jia 賈曉晨; Koni Lui 呂慧儀; Jeannette Leung 梁政玨; Siu Yam-Yam 邵音音; Evergreen Mak 麥長青; 6 Wing 陸永; Tenky Tin 田啟文; Lam Suet 林雪; Raymond Wong 黃浩然; Otto Wong 王志安; Eddie Pang 彭懷安; Jim Chim 詹瑞文; Samantha Ko 高海寧; Felix Wong 黃日華; Michael Miu 苗僑偉; Mak Ling-Ling 麥玲玲; Pierre Ngo 敖嘉年; Christine Kuo 苟芸慧; Terence Tsui 小肥; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; and a LOT more
Time: 104 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

I Love Hong Kong 2013 (2013我愛HK恭囍發財)

i love hk2013

Recently, Hong Kong’s go-to television station, TVB, has had a decent track record delivering satisfying Chinese New Year’s fare. This effort doesn’t quite live up to the lofty expectations set by its predecessors, like 72 Tenants of Prosperity and the 2011 installment of I Love Hong Kong, but still manages to tick off the appropriate boxes. There are sophomoric slapstick gags, local jokes for those in the know, a bit of song and dance, conspicuous product placement. The network also imports a few big name actors to balance out the surfeit of TVB extras. These movies are meant to be a paean to the common folk, the ones most likely to fill the seats, and a bevy of artistic contributors have scraped together a simple plot that churns up warm feelings but does not tread too heavily on the intellect.

It’s a timeless Hong Kong tale of the small potatoes getting mashed by villainous property developers. Sung Chi-Hung (Alan Tam) is the poorly coiffed but genial owner of a neighborhood dim sum restaurant. His wife Yeung Yeung (Veronica Yip) thinks he’s a little too charitable though and that he considers the needs of his employees and customers before those of his family.

On Chinese New Year’s Eve, she rallies her sons and daughters-in-law to trick Chi-Hung into selling the restaurant, which seems like a way to earn bad karma for at least a year or two. When he still refuses to sell, they desert him in a huff. Feeling neglected and inadequate, he decides to throw himself off the roof. He is saved just in time by an angel in the form of Eric Tsang (TVB archangel in real life), who guides Chi-Hung into the past in a low-budget Christmas Carol sort of way. Our desperate hero begins to recall the decisions that led him to his current predicament.

The movie goes into an extended flashback and stays there until the last 15 minutes or so, which is to say the audience sees a lot more TVB actors than Alan Tam and Veronica Yip. Bosco Wong and Kate Tsui fill in as the younger 1970s versions of Chi-Hung and Yeung Yeung, whose initial pairing finds resistance with a few people. Her wealthy father (Hui Siu-Hung) objects to his daughter dating a restaurant lackey while Chi-Hung’s insincere friend Ha Shek-Sam (Michael Tse) wants Yeung Yeung for himself. Of course true love endures, despite their machinations. What doesn’t run so smoothly is the restaurant, which constantly faces the threat of going under. Chi-Hung’s honesty and/or naïveté saves the employees and owner (Stanley Fung), but increasingly at the cost of his growing family’s needs and comfort.

The movie crescendos to an uplifting finale but is longer on nostalgia and shorter on humor than TVB’s previous holiday films. The warm 1970s sheen of the piece does not enlighten on the past or present but is used to bolster the audience’s Hong Kong sentiment. It is a giant cinematic trinket displayed to reassert the city’s identity. And indeed there is some not-so-subtle identity politics when the restaurant changes owners; everyone is assured that nothing will change in 50 years, and we know how that’s working out.

Mostly, the mood is dampened because the film is just not particularly showy or fun. And because a blackfaced character is still being played for laughs in 2013. The musical numbers are perfunctory and put the stylized set to waste. Also, the premise of a family turning against itself is a bit mean spirited, regardless of the outcome. There are a few entertaining performances. This isn’t the stuff of drama school, but Michael Tse and Joyce Cheng as Shek-Sam’s accidental love interest make an energetic pair. Some would call it overacting, which it is, but one can indulge during this time of year.

Released: 2013
Prod: Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Peter Tsi 戚家基
Dir: Chung Shu-Kai 鍾澍佳
Writer: Peter Tsi 戚家基; Kwok Kin-Lok 郭建樂; Yan Pak-Wing 甄柏榮; Chiu Sin-Hang 趙善恆
Cast: Bosco Wong 黃宗澤; Michael Tse 謝天華; Kate Tsui 徐子珊 Joyce Cheng 鄭欣宜; Alan Tam 譚詠麟; Nats Chan 陳百祥; Veronica Yip 葉玉卿; Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Stanley Fung 馮淬帆; Wong Cho-Lam 王祖藍; Jacqueline Chong 莊思敏; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Alfred Cheung 張堅庭; Natalie Meng 孟瑤; Alvina Kong 江欣燕; Evergreen Mak 麥長青; Koo Ming-Wah 古明華; Tenky Tin 田啟文; Otto Wong 王志安; Eddie Pang 彭懷安; Samantha Ko 高海寧; Pierre Ngo 敖嘉年; Liu Fan 魯芬; Koni Lui 呂慧儀; 6 Wing 陸永; Siu Yam-Yam 邵音音; Gill Mohindepaul Singh 喬寶寶; Terence Tsui 小肥; Joe Junior
Time: 110 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

The Jade and the Pearl (翡翠明珠)

jade and pearl

TVB, Hong Kong’s television monopoly, tests the limits of its audience’s tolerance with this hastily conceived charade, which it named after its Chinese and English language stations, respectively. Even the most dedicated fan, of which I am one, will find this sprawling mess of a movie difficult to defend.

For one, it’s an ill-begotten marriage between TVB and EEG, an equally monstrous entertainment conglomerate that caters to the masses by settling for the lowest common denominator. This co-production does not assume inadequacy, and I enjoy offerings by both companies, but it does mean a surfeit of beautiful and questionably talented young people. If The Jade and the Pearl was to be successful, it would have needed a strong story or clever script, something to emphasize the actors’ talents wherever they may lie.

As it stands, the best part may be the karaoke-ready theme song “Always Here” (一直都在) by TVB’s in-house composer Tang Chi-Wai (鄧智偉). It certainly isn’t the expansive plot, which lacks enough focus to propel it through its 104 minute running time. The action initially revolves around the happy-go-lucky Princess Yan (Choi), who is sent off to some far-flung land to marry an insignificant prince. She is escorted by General Ching (Lam), and one can safely predict what will transpire between the two during their long journey.

What no one expects is Joey Yung to appear as a bandit in pirate garb. But she does, and this is where the movie’s television roots show. After a short, dispassionate chase, the general is captured and the princess gets knocked out. When she comes to, she doesn’t remember a thing. Fortunately, a peasant storyteller (Wong) takes her in and the simple princess begins to enjoy the rustic life. Meanwhile, Ching still longs for Yan but must contend with the affections of pirate Joey.

The film does not have the luxury of 30 episodes with which to develop its characters and their relationships. So, if you make it as far as the climax, chances are you haven’t invested enough emotion to care what becomes of these broken hearts. More skilled leads would probably help the situation, but this movie is clearly interested in showcasing idols not actors. Everyone looks appealing and fulfills his or her role: Lam is the sensitive heartthrob, Wong is his honest but homely rival, Yung is the quirky, needy rebel, and Choi is forever the squeaky pubescent Twin whom everyone wants to coddle. This formula’s kept TVB and EEG afloat for years, so unless more people stay away from movies like this one, not much will change.

Released: 2010
Prod: Ng Yue 吳雨; Chan Hing-Kar 陳慶嘉; Amy Chin Siu-Wai 錢小蕙
Dir: Janet Chun Siu-Jan 秦小珍
Writer: Chan Hing-Kar 陳慶嘉; Cheung Fan 張帆; Ho Miu-Kei 何妙祺; Li Wai-Fuk 李瑋褔
Cast: Charlene Choi Cheuk-Yin 蔡卓妍; Raymond Lam Fung 林峰; Joey Yung Tso-Yi 容祖兒; Wong Cho-Lam 王祖藍; Ti Lung 狄龍; Chapman To Man-Chak 杜汶澤; Carlo Ng Ka-Lok吳家樂; Tien Niu 恬妞; Lam Suet 林雪; Wong Yau-Nam 黃又南; Tats Lau Yi-Dat 劉以達; Steven Cheung Chi-Hang 張致恆; 6 Wing 陸永; JJ Jia Xiaochen 賈曉晨; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Matthew Ko Kwan-Yin 高鈞賢; Benjamin Yuen Wai-Ho 袁偉豪; Kenny Kwan Chi-Bun 關智斌; Ken Hung Cheuk-Lap 洪卓立; Cilla Kung 樂瞳; Macy Chan Mei-Si 陳美詩; Christine Kuo Yun-Hui 苟芸慧; Sire Ma Choi 馬賽; Jess Sum Cheuk-Ying 沈卓盈; Katy Kung Ka-Yan 龔嘉欣; Mavis Pan Shuang-Shuang 潘霜霜
Time: 104 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2013