There is still a chance that I might end this on film 100*, so a film is really going to have to be pretty special to make it into the final 15 slot, especially as half of them are already taken in my mind. But, I do like to cover those nearly-films and those must-be-avoided films, so most things will still get written about.
So, what is “La Comédie Humaine“, and what stopped it getting that all important number? Well it is a comic tale of a nerdy scriptwriter (Wong Cho Lam) and a mainland Hitman (Chapman To) who via comic circumstances end up living together, and bonding through a common love of cinema. Along the way we meet the scriptwriters frankly psychotic but awfully sweet and cute girlfriend (Fiona Sit) and a young pregnant girl who tries to hire the hitman to take out the young man who got her pregnant (Kama Law).
The problem with the film is twofold. Firstly it is paced terribly. Way too long is spent of some aspects of the film, yet others are brushed past with hardly a thought. In fact it is worse than that – it feels like a lot of good ideas that have been slapped onto the screen without being allowed to flow or gel together. Secondly, it seems unsure about what kind of film it is. Is it telling the story of an unlikely Bromance (or even something a little more charged?), or is it a silly comedy? Is it a biting satire on the Hong Kong film Industry? Is it a mildly surreal bit of fun that delights in poking at some famous movies? I certainly could not tell you, and I think sadly the film itself provides no answers.
Twice the film veers into pastiche of other famous films, once very successfully, but as they are just two moments, they seem a little out of place. It also suffers from that most common complaint of mine – not knowing when a joke has ceased to be funny. There is a clever segment, where Chapman To gives his life story, using the titles of the various DVDs on the shelves as his sentences. But it goes on. And on. Until you scream at the screen for this just to stop. The same is true for the John Woo moment. I think the other shame is that these moments are not bringing anything particularly revelatory, they are just set pieces.
Sounds like a disaster yes?
Thing is, there is a lot here to enjoy. I found the performance of Chapman To especially fun, able to play the role both straight, but also with a knowing wink. The other performers seemed to be playing it far more hysterically. Fiona Sit actually starts off being rather endearing, but once her character becomes a little more “developed” she suddenly becomes awfully annoying, and frankly you are glad that her storyline becomes secondary. Kama Law is actually very good, which is a shame, as her part in the film seems a little tacked on, and really gives nothing to the story.
It looks good mind you, as long as you can stand the thought that Chapman To spends a good proportion of the movie half-naked. The film makers obviously have a love and respect for cinema, and wit ha deal of tightening up, this could have, should have been something special.
It also excels during what I call the small moments, when the comedy fades and a little emotion shines through. I am thinking of a moment when Wong Cho Lam overhears Chapman To beating a mugger for attacking “his friend”, any moment when To and Law share the screen, and the lovely little end sequence.
At the end of the day, this one gets the mildest of recommendations, and I am still hunting for that modern Hong Kong comedy that tickles me properly.
* And yes, I know I am kidding myself, but maybe someone, somewhere and somewhen would be pleasantly suprised when film 101 comes up.