This is probably my last review posting for 3 weeks at least (unless I get really bored and find some decent internet) before I actually re-visit Asia rather than watch and write about it, so what better movie to talk about than the latest from a clear favourite of mine, Pang Ho-Cheung? Without further pointless preamble, let us begin…
“Aberdeen” tells the stories of a middle class Hong Kong family. The head of the clan is played by Man Tat Ng, a Taoist Priest, who chose this career as a reaction to the generational occupation of Fisherman. A widower, his relationship with mature club hostess Carrie Ng appears happy enough, but is frowned upon by his Son, Louis Koo. Koo is a successful lecturer, albeit obsessed with appearance and the genetic laws of attraction. He and his wife Gigi Leung, a fading actress/model have a delightful young daughter (newcomer Lee Man-kwai) who just doesn’t live up to his expectations of beauty. Not only does he insist on calling her “piggy”, but he has severe doubts that the child is actually his. On the other hand, he really is a close and supportive father, though his goal is really about preparing her for a hard life ahead due to her appearance.
Koo’s character has a sister, played by Miriam Yeung, who is a tourist guide, and not only is she utterly frustrated at work, but has severe depression about how she feels her long dead mother never actually loved her. Not only that, but her Doctor husband Eric Tsang is having an affair with a pretty young nurse. The film revolves around the interactions of this somewhat dysfunctional family, whilst other events in Hong Kong play out the internal struggles on a wider canvas.
The easy thing to say here is that this is Pang’s most mature film to date. Originally a writer, his strengths have always been in the conversations that his characters have, and the fun little stories and subplots he likes to introduce. “Aberdeen” is quite a departure in this sense. Nothing too outrageously crazy is going on in this film (other than the ideas that Eric Tsang cold really be vigorously pursued by his nubile assistant and that an actress/model would have never performed fellatio at any point in her life or career). In fact, most of the time his characters do nothing much else than have one on one loaded conversations with each other, or have mildly failing family dinners.
Koo is great with a role that on paper sounds utterly unpleasant, and I don’t think I have seen Gigi Leung look or act better. Her somewhat meta role is a highlight, and somewhat brave for what seems to be a comeback. Tsang plays his role in the understated way that he rarely gets the chance to normally. Yeung has the most difficult performance to pull off, as she is required to actually act, but she is more than acceptable. Basically all the main cast do a good job with what they are given. Mix in some fun supporting work by Dada Chen, Shawn Yue and Chapman To, and no-one is going to be disappointed by any of the key players here.
Never has a Pang film looked so good either. Director of Photography Jason Kwan makes everything look fantastic, and special kudos has to go to the art direction of Man Lim-chung. The model of Hong Kong which plays into the dreams of Yeung and Lee’s characters manages to be both fun and surreal, perfectly highlighting the mental state of the dreamers.
The problem is. Nothing much really happens. Not one crisis is met head on. (Literally) Big things like unexploded bombs and beached Whales affect the characters and their relationships more. Maybe in some ways that is the point. But it is all rather unsatisfying.
Great performances. Beautiful to look at. And yes a maturing away from some of the more childish aspects of Pang’s CV. But whilst a merely ok Pang film is probably head and shoulders above most of his contemporaries, I cannot help but feel a touch disappointed by the overall package. Possibly there are just too many stars packed into this film, and what it needed is for one of them to have been given a more central role. It’s recommended, but I suspect long term this won’t be the film Pang is remembered for.