Trivial Matters

Trawling through my back catalogue of unwatched movies still, and here is another from one of my favourite Hong Kong Directors, Edmond Pang.  This one is a little different though, as it is a collection of short films based up his own writing (he was an author before he started making feature films).  Think of it as an Eastern version of Woody Allen’s “Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex * But Were Afraid To Ask”, although the themes are not wholly sexual, not every segment is humorous, and it isn’t paying homage to film genres.  But you get the idea – little vignettes, with a host of good actors, with varying results.

Trivial Matters” open with ‘Vis Major’, in which a College Professor and his wife confess their sexual issues to one of his Students who appears to be training as a Psychoanalyst.  They talk frankly to the camera, taking turns to describe a particularly unfulfilling bout of lovemaking.  Interestingly, whilst they are quite happy to be frank about the details and feelings, they are not so happy about being imagined physically, so we get to see the ‘action’ via some imagined counterparts.  It is rather amusing, and terribly honest with both parties showing a complete inability to communicate with each other emotionally whilst joined so closely physically.  It is one of the better stories in this collection (and the dead frog image is seriously laugh out loud), but maybe isn’t the most interesting one to start the film with as a visual spectacle.

Next up is ‘Civism’, the shortest and weakest tale here.  Edison Chen spends 5 or 6 minutes attempting to chat up a young women (Stephanie Cheng) in a nightclub in English by telling her about his exemplary Civic Service.  Not wanting to go into details, but this involves cleaning up toilet bowls whilst peeing.  I guess most guys have done this out of boredom, but hardly seen it as helping society, nor as a chat-up line.  I am not sure if mid-scandal Edison Chen is playing this part to play up on his sullied reputation, or if the idea is to show himself capable of laughing at himself.  It ends up being weird and worthless, although it is memorable for the wrong reasons.

Next up is ‘It’s a Festival Today’, in which Eason Chan has moved in with his new girlfriend, who just doesn’t believe in sex before marriage.  His horniness leads him to constantly ask her for at least to fellate him, which she does one Christmas Eve, because you know, it’s a special day.  As is New Year, and a whole host of international festival days that Chan manages to uncover.  However, you have to be careful what you wish for, as the story ends up rather tragically, and whilst wholly comedic, has a rather horror film-esque denouement.  This one is very funny, and Chan is obviously having a ball with the role.  It is in fact probably the most perfect segment for this kind of film, a short, amusing story with a message that has a beginning, middle and end, and has a moral to display.  It’s a joke with a great punch line.

The weirdest segment is ‘Tak Nga’, which appears to be an educational film from the future, telling the story how a planet got named by a modern day boy as a token of love for his Girlfriend.  It is filmed as a 1970’s style cine-film (rather like my ‘The Founding of a Republic’ YouTube effort).  It is kind of nice and interesting, but doesn’t really have a lot to say – other than suggesting that because the naming was based on a small lie, that it undermines the religion present on this far-off planet.  An interesting and technically impressive section then, but it feels more like a sketch than a fully formed idea.

Ah Wai the Big Head’ is the longest and possibly the story that could have head legs to be a full feature in its own right.  Schoolgirl Kei (Stephy Tang) is paired up with needy loner Wai (Gillian Chung) for a singing competition.  The two become friends, but it is all a bit one sided – Kei finds Wai a little too dependant upon her.  She encourages Wai into a relationship with a potentially triad-involved tattooed Mechanic (Juno Mak), which results in Wai becoming pregnant.  Wai asks Kei for a loan to help her get an abortion, but Kei refuses spending the money instead on a secret weekend away in Japan with her own boyfriend.  Sadly, she too gets pregnant.  The girls end up leaving school, and becoming parents, but in very different ways.  It is a lovely and well acted story, that shows things really don’t always turn out as you expect, that sometimes that curve ball can be the making of you, and that sometimes an act of selfishness can rebound on you.  Tang is excellent, and Pang gets another decent performance out of the much maligned Chung. 

The slightest tale here is ‘Recharge’ where Chapman To basically plays an actor who likes to visit prostitutes.  His contact sets him up with a new Mainland girl (Zheng Zhang), and they have somewhat formal and frankly rather unemotional congress. Then as they are tidying up, she asks him to help her make a phone call back using her calling card, as her Cantonese is not great.  They make a brief and sudden connection, far deeper than the physical transaction To has just paid for.   There is no deep insight here, but it is a well acted and subtle segment, and even though the bittersweet ending is a little clichéd, worked well.

The film finishes with ‘Junior’, which is itself in two parts.  The first half is a frankly brilliant moment where a salesman from a firm specialising in Assassinations (Feng Xiaogang) visits one of his clients and offers services much more in line with more traditional business – discounts for bulk, and a free hit thrown in.  It is a funny scene, although it is a mere set up for the rest of the segment.  We switch to Shawn Yue as a neophyte hit man (hence the free nature of this deal), who is charged with killing a Bowling Alley Operator.  However, whilst he has done the training, he really does not have the experience, and is quickly seduced by his targets Marijuana and the chance to see what happens behind the scenes in the Bowling establishment.  This one is ok, but not as funny as it thinks it is, and lacks a killer punch line (unlike ‘It’s a Festival Today’), which means the film as a whole ends on an unsatisfactory note.

I think the good outweighed the bad here.  We have a couple of very good stories, and a fair number of decent ones, with only one being an utter failure.  It is amusing at times (even hilarious), and touching at others.  Pang shows a number of techniques that he hones further in later films, and is able to control and direct some of the big names of Hong Kong cinema at this time.  It is in no way an essential film, but is certainly worth seeing, if two of the stories appeal to you.  It is a mature work though – we have some boobs and Chapman To’s bum on display, and I think it has been clear that some rather “adult” topics are discussed.  But in the final analysis, I liked this, and will make it Recommended.

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