Saturday, September 19, 2015

Office (aka Gorgeous Office Workers aka Design for Living)

As much as I love that we're getting new Chinese (and, increasingly, Korean) films very soon after their native release, I'm wondering if this speed is always for the best. Office, for instance, is being released by China Lion, which very much caters to the expatriate audience and those like me who get excited enough about popular films in Hong Kong that we might as well be part of that group.

I kind of wonder, though, if they maybe shouldn't shift gears with the release of Office. Johnnie To has, I think, gained a little cachet with the art-house audience in recent years, as guys who do good genre work with smart underpinnings for long enough tend to do. This one is unconventional and politically astute on top of that; I suspect that it could reach an entirely different audience at a place like Kendall Square after a few weeks. It's divisive among critics, but I suspect that it's of enough interest that its American release shouldn't just be a quick thing in multiplexes near Chinese communities that comes and goes practically before the folks who saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival can arrive home to tell folks to see it.

Of course, that sort of release probably wouldn't give me a chance to see it in 3D. I hope whoever eventually does the video release includes a BD3D option, although my system probably won't display it very well.

Still, I wonder if China Lion would give much consideration to doing what is almost two separate releases for some of their movies, aimed at those different markets. Most of what they do wouldn't necessarily be of interest, but every once in a while, amid the romantic comedies and Feng Xiaogang dramas, they get something that should be just as interesting to an English-speaking audience as a Chinese one.

Hua Li Shang Ban Zou (Office)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 September 2015 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

As a fan of filmmakers giving me something great that I don't necessarily expect, I was kind of already in the tank for Office (aka "Gorgeous Office Workers" aka "Design for Living") - who expected the first time that Chow Yun-fat worked with director Johnnie To in twenty-five years (during which time they both gained international renown) would be a musical rather than the action they are both best known for? On top of that, though, it's a good one, and eye-popping visually to boot. It's further proof that Johnnie To can apparently do any kind of movie he puts his mind to.

The office in question is that of Jones & Sunn International, a Hong Kong corporation that is about to go public. Winnie Chang (Sylvia Chang Ai-chia) is the CEO, Ho Chung-ping (Chow Yun-fat) is the chairman of the board, and they have been having an affair for decades, one that is something of an open secret. Winnie is also alleged to be involved with her subordinate David Wang (Eason Chan Yik-shun), who is investing a lot of money in unstable investments on the eve of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy while also drawing closer to Sophie (Tang Wei), the serious comptroller whose dedication to her work has just about strained her engagement to a man back home to the breaking point. New to the office are Lee Xiang (Wang Zi-yi) and Kat Ho (Lang Yue-ting), and, yes, she is Chung-ping's daughter, though she tries not to advertise it, though if Xiang can see that something is up, the pair are too infatuated for him to notice.

In addition to playing Winnie, Sylvia Chang writes and produces, having also penned and starred in the play, which was apparently much more of a star vehicle than this ensemble piece. Even with this reduced prominence, she has created a heck of a role for herself and delivers on every facet; Winnie is formidable but not cruel, a respected leader although not the maternal type. It's in Winnie's dealings with Chung-ping that Chang does her best work; as much as their history is laid out for the viewer, it's from watching her that one sees how keenly aware she is of the bounds on their relationship even as she quietly desires more. She projects this impressive level-headedness when others are panicking without leaving any doubt at what she's feeling. She gets most of the scenes with Chow Yun-fat, who is similarly imposing as Chairman Ho although without the same sort of humanity; he's a stern one - baby-faced in his youth, Chow makes good use of the sharper lines his face has gained with age - although his half of the complicated relationship they share has some interesting nuance as well.

Full review on EFC.

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