Where is that review of 2012? I promise you it is on its way, but the major hurdle in stopping it appearing is about to pass. You see, I was just waiting to watch and review this film, being as it is from one of this blogs favourite Directors, Edmond Pang. Whilst his other film this year “Love in the Buff” was polished, but lacked a certain something, this was the one I was really excited about – a bawdy comedy shot in around 12 days, potentially exploiting Pang’s strengths. Was it worth waiting for? Read on! Quick word of warning though… the film is pretty base in terms of language and content, although there is no nudity, I am not going to be able to avoid talking about certain subjects that might not be to all tastes!
“Vulgaria” is framed around a interview performed for a number of University Students, the subject being small time movie Producer To Wai Cheung (Chapman To). He uses the story of how he got his latest movie made to explain the role of the Producer. The thing is, he really isn’t very successful, struggling with making that big hit, securing funding (especially as his Director is particularly adverse to Product Placement), and can’t make the alimony payments to his Lawyer Ex-wife (Kristal Tin) who is refusing him access to their young but awfully supportive daughter. So when his friend (Simon Lui) hooks him up with a mainland Gangster, Tyrannosaurus (Ronald Cheng), with the offer of funding a new movie, he jumps at the change. There are just two problems. Firstly Tyrannosaurus has rather peculiar tastes in his appetites for both food and sex (ending up with both To and Lui having to have congress with their hosts favourite Mules). Secondly, he wishes to remake the Shaw Brothers classic skin flick “Confessions of a Concubine”, but with the original actress – the now sexagenarian Susan Shaw (playing herself). But a chance meeting with struggling actress/model Popping Candy (Dada Chen) and a bit of green screen magic (i.e. CGI-ing Shaw’s head on Candy’s body), opens up the possibilities for the film to be made. Can To actually make this movie and finally not only make something of himself, but gain the respect of his daughter?
Brilliant. In fact so good I watched it again the next day. Often the one failing of such movies is that they don’t translate too well to a Western Audience, but Pang makes sure that enough of his jokes translate both internationally and visually. There is one joke about To being sued for sexual harassment by his assistant (Fiona Sit) due to an unfortunate misunderstanding between Mandarin and Cantonese that needs too much explaining to be truly successful, but this is some of the smartest albeit basest stuff I have seen since back when Kevin Smith actually made funny films. It would be easy for me to simply sit here and amuse myself by listing everything that made me guffaw, but that might be a little too spoilerific, and frankly I would rather you experienced things for yourselves. But as a taster, highlights include: the congress with a Mule (which actually plays forward to even more amusing scenes later on); the Director who runs an illegal Mah-jong gambling den for Housewife’s (replete with Daycare and meals being prepared for the unknowing husbands, all set up to look like a movie set); and Popping Candy’s great idea for a Wii Video Game (basically a Handjob Simulator).
But humour alone would not work if the film didn’t hang together. And yes, it is a little scattershot at times, and not everything works, but it not only works as a story, but by involving To’s private life, the film has more than a little heart. Chapman To is always dependable, and has become one of the finest comic actors in Hong Kong, easily capable of holding a film like this together. He can bring the funny, but also has the ability to bring the necessary depth to the aspects of the film which are more personal. I am not sure there is anyone else around who can so comfortably break the fourth wall, such is his relationship with both the audience and the characters in the film. Most of the other characters are less well developed, being played either for outright laughs, or just cameo-ing as themselves, such as Susan Shaw and Hiro Hayama. Dada Chen is quite beautiful and has a body to die for, does the best she can on limited acting talent, but isn’t really up to the standard of the rest of the cast. Luckily though, her character is actually so much fun (she gets her name from her talent of using Popping Candy during Fellatio), and is surprisingly the real heart of the story, that I was able to forgive her faults.
Ribaldry aside, the film is really a fun little swipe at the modern Hong Kong film industry, scrabbling for money from big business and more nefarious sources, maybe a little obsessed with the more lurid side of life, and desperate to hold onto the icons of the past. It really does translate really rather well (with English subtitles which are both of high quality grammatically and able to deliver a true sense of what is being said). It really is a real success as a film, showing us that Pang is still one of the top Directors and Writers in Hong Kong. Highly Recommended.