Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Yeah, I had that shipped to me: A Lifetime Treasure and A Beautiful Moment

Remember back at the end of January, when all of the new release films for Lunar New Year were postponed and the theaters in an entire country of over a billion people were closed, based on what had sounded like an epidemic in one city? Yeah, we should have realized it was bigger and was only going to get bigger then.

It caught people flat-footed enough that it took a few weeks for one of the Hong Kong Lunar New Year films to show up here, and I gather Enter the Fat Dragon was kind of retrofitted into LNY release, with clips of the cast wishing everyone a happy new year tacked onto the end. The only "true" Hong Kong LNY comedy I remember getting here is Missbehavior last year, and that was also the new Pang Ho-Cheung; I gather the usual for those movies is to be zany and almost sketch comedy right up until the credits roll with the cast offering holiday wishes.

(Aside: How weird would it be if big movies scheduled for Christmas release in the West did that? Or would it be charming?)

These two are somewhat closer to that tradition, although I think that they, too, are more along the lines of "comedies released near the New Year". A Lifetime Treasure was still kicking around at the end of its run when I visited Hong Kong last year, and is one of a number of films that wound up on my shelf because I wound up with less time to see movies at the end of the day than I thought I would have but was curious about the films I missed. I apparently ordered A Beautiful Moment soon after getting home, and I'm kind of amazed to see that there was a full fourteen months between its HK theatrical release and Blu-ray release (presuming the dates on DDDHouse are the same as general availability). That seems kind of crazy to me, used to studios just habitually penciling the home release for the first Tuesday after the 90-day window.

The movies themselves… Well, neither of them are winners. I'm finding myself a little frustrated in that a lot of the films I'm watching over the past week or so seem to spend an hour screwing around before getting to the part where you can see why they even bothered. A Lifetime Treasure isn't quite so bad in this regard, but how the people involved with A Beautiful Moment didn't realize that Carina Lau and Simon Yam was the whole movie from the start…

Ah, well. The double feature helped me push the "general unwatched Hong Kong" section down to one shelf-section, so that's kind of a quarantine accomplishment.

Ru zhu ru bao de ren sheng (A Lifetime Treasure)

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 April 2020 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Hong Kong Blu-ray)

There's probably a listicle or three out there counting down the best "a bunch of movie stars have gotten old" films, hopefully not to grim in terms of how many great actors passed away soon after doing a movie that cracked wise about how they used to be sex symbols and are now the butt of jokes about peeing every ten minutes. Unless they're exhaustive, A Lifetime Treasure will probably not show up on many of those lists, and not just because it's relatively recent or because many overlook films not made in Hollywood; it's just not very good and a few of the folks involved have done it much better.

It takes place around the Oh Hoi Nursing Home, the only elder-care facility on one of Hong Kong's smaller islands, technically run by superintendent Yuen Luk Cheung (Andrew Lam Man-Chung) although he's addled enough that nurse Ching-Ching (Ivana Wong Yuen-Chi) is effectively in charge of the five elders there: "Uncle Dragon" (Bruce Leung Siu-Lung), a mute tinkerer who claims to have once been a secret agent; Richard Leung (Richard Ng Yiu-Hon), a former swimmer living on borrowed time; Jane (Tien Niu), who like to tell people she was once a nightclub diva; Ben Chow Tai-Bun (Teddy Robin Kwan), a diminutive former pickpocket; and "Uncle Crab" (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo), a wheelchair-bound ex-detective still obsessed with an unsolved case from 30 years ago. Elsewhere, Rainy Cloud Hung (Lam Suet), who dominates the Hong Kong nursing home business, is looking to purchase the site, and dispatches flunkies Chun (Louis Cheung Kai-Chung) and Lok (Bob Lam Shing-Pun) to sabotage the place.

They don't get very far with that - Lok is too smitten with Ching-Ching despite her eyes for hunky handyman Fai (Terry Zou Wen-Zheng) to keep his eye on the prize, and their attempts at disruption make for forgettable episodes. The most elaborate involves bringing the elders to the set of a zombie movie to work as extras in hopes of out-of-context photos causing a scandal only for them to (briefly) become celebrity heroes and is mostly enlivened by Siu Yam-Yam (aka Susan "Yum-Yum" Shaw) cameoing as a thoroughly disinterested film director, which is at once the most predictable thing in the movie - Siu has, by now, made nearly as much of a career out of playing the feisty granny as she did playing the sexpot in the 1970s and 1980s that informs those parts - and the funniest. Like many of the other episodic bits that make up this film's first half hour, it seems to start from nothing and lead to nothing, with many of the jokes nearly incomprehensible to my western head. This is, to be fair, not necessarily the fault of the filmmakers; between Cantonese being a language that allows for a lot of wordplay in both spoken and written forms and Hong Kong being compact enough that there's a really good chance that everyone in the audience gets a pop-culture reference that is completely opaque to an American 12 time zones away (on the other hand, characters getting teased for uniforms that look to be straight out of Star Trek: The Next Generation may not play once you get 50 miles into the Chinese mainland). One can see evidence of such jokes, even as they fly way the heck over a western viewer's head.

It's probably not great that a lot of that running around doesn't wind up really mattering, as Rainy Cloud eventually just bursts in, forces the Chief to press his finger to a contract, and walks off, forcing the orderlies and elders to break into the headquarters Mission: Impossible-style, straight down to the harness in the elevator shaft. It's a pretty straightforward parody, but having these veteran performers play their characters as folks with something to do rather than just wandering in a fog lets them be funnier and easier to connect with. Richard Ng, especially, turns out to be a real treat, and Ivana Wong does a nice job as Ching-Ching, it's kind of hard for me to imagine an American film letting her character be weird and abrasive rather than sweet but she pulls it off.

Those noting Sammo Hung's name in the cast should maybe temper their expectations a little; the action-movie legend's Uncle Crab is in a wheelchair and doesn't get out of it for very long. There's still a bit of action or two toward the end that impresses a bit (and some physical comedy that uses the same sort of skills), but it's mostly in the hands of Bruce Leung Siu-Lung and Teddy Robin, and they're a couple of fairly capable hands, giving the film the chance to end on fast-paced, exciting note.

The thing is, Leung and Robbin and even Siu have done this before, almost ten years earlier, in a film called Gallants, which is pretty terrific and close enough to the general idea of this movie that the filmmakers got a shout-out in the credits. As much as it's great to see old favorites getting work into their later years, there's no reason to watch this one when Gallants is not that much more difficult to find.

Also on EFilmCritic

A Beautiful Moment (aka "My Rival is Son-in-law, My Lover is Son-in-law")

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 April 2020 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Hong kong Blu-ray)

The neat idea that sells A Beautiful Moment is not close to being a wholly original idea - I feel like I've got the names of two or three other movies that play with the lead actor in romantic comedies often being old enough to have dated their opposite numbers' mothers on the tip of my tongue - but it's a fun one and potentially clever, especially with this cast. That's why it's so bizarre and frustrating that filmmaker Patrick Kong Pak-Leung spends so much time on doing other things.

It introduces Doctor Bo (Carina Lau Ka-Ling) using a mah-jongg game to treat three other women of a certain age, before shifting perspective to Simon Leung (Simon Yam Tat-Wah), a billionaire developer who berates his employees and carries petty grudges against rival Philip Lau Hak-Heung (Philip Keung Hiu-Man) to extremes. Bo has two daughters - Michelle (Michelle Wai Si-Nga), who she is pushing toward the other end of a breakup, and Kiki (Ivana Wong Yuen-Chi), a struggling actress who hasn't spoken to her mother in years. Chance has Simon and Michelle meet on Valentine's Day and they decide to start seeing each other, but little do they know that they've got more reason than usual to be nervous when Michelle brings her boyfriend to meet her mother.

For something like fifteen or twenty minutes in the middle, A Beautiful Moment lives up to its name; Bo and Simon spot each other at lunch and do all they can to verbally spar around Michelle. They eventually meet up and without her and while Kong initially seems to get too cute with how that goes, ham-fistedly having a parallel conversation with a younger couple going on at the next table, watching these characters smile because they know better and only have to sketch out part of their own conversations s terrific even if it is very much not the verbal jousting that one likely expected from the first encounters with the pair. Carina Lau and Simon Yam handle this downshift so well that it's difficult to understand why this isn't the entire movie.

It's not, though, and the process of getting there is kind of maddening. This main triangle is introduced in pretty specific terms: Simon is a bully; Bo is a gifted therapist but that same skill set also allows her to be tremendously manipulative; and Michelle seems to be the person she is trying to control most, the sort of behavior which drove Kiki away. There's something there, potentially, with Michelle being pushed into her mother's unhealthy patterns or Simon seeing a second chance, but Kong and co-writer Ja Poon Hang-Kei never really dig into it; Simon just seems to get nicer without being pushed with Michelle more or less flatly saying that she's decided to date him because he's wealthy and powerful. At the other side of the film, things just get shoved into different directions and arrangements out of the blue, so that even when it reaches the conclusion the audience wants, it's hard to feel anything as a result of something just happening off-screen.

And that doesn't even get to how the movie treats Ivana Wong's Kiki, who is eventually relegated to interrupting the rest of her family's thing with non-sequiturs despite the fact that the front half of the movie leans hard on the "acting" jobs she and her boyfriend take to make ends meet for its better comic pieces. Most of the comic set-ups in the movie are fairly mean-spirited, which is fair enough - it's about initially-selfish people - but some of them go on much too long at high volume, with the bits where Bo is trying to help Philip with his gambling addiction especially obnoxious.

As much as the movie can be frustrating, the cast does their best by it - I'd love to see Simon Yam and Carina Lau in a romantic comedy that delivers on the promise of their scenes together all the way through, Michelle Wai and Ivana Wong are both very funny when given the room, and as director, Kong is able to get everyone in the supporting and cameo-ing cast to squeeze the most out of the clumsy gags he gives them as the writer. It's a mess, but at least it's one with occasional high points.

Also on EFilmCritic

No comments: