Saturday, February 10, 2024

Table for Six 2.

Is this the Hong Kong Chinese New Year comedy, because I was given to understand that those end with the cast breaking character and wishing the audience a happy new year.

Anyway, not quite just me at the 6:15pm screening on Causeway Street, but pretty close. I'll be curious to see if The Movie Emperor or Pegasus 2 is drawing better over at the Common. Not getting into how I don't understand how AMC is booking these theaters these days again, but it seems like this pretty funny movie that's a sequel to one of the all-itme biggest box office hits in Hong Kong would be primed to get people in. Although, on the other hand, it might have gotten swept aside here, opening the same day as Wakanda Forever two months after it played Hong Kong and China.

Sadly, the first film is frustratingly unavailable in the US, and DDDouse is sold out of the Blu-ray, though it's available at YesAsia. I'm not going to lie, this probably won't work nearly as well if you haven't seen it, even with one of the cast missing (and, surprisingly, not even showing up for a cameo), but, honestly, I didn't really remember that Monica had been the absent brother's girlfriend before she was with Bernard until that got mentioned, and I was fine. Considering there's not a new American romantic comedy out for Valentine's Day this year, you could do a lot worse, date-movie wise.

(Note; There are enough capable/messy/funny women in this movie to make me surprised that filmmaker "Sunny" Chan was a guy, necessitating a lot of edits!)

Faan hei gong sum 2 (Table for Six 2)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 February 2024 in AMC Causeway #10 (first-run, laser DCP)

I have a general rule of thumb that doing a sequel to a romantic comedy is a bad idea, because even if you can recapture the chemistry that made the first work, the story generally requires that you undo at least some of what the audience found satisfying about the original, and who wants that? Unless, that is, you can pull off the Frantic Wedding gambit, and filmmaker Sunny Chan Wing-Sun opts to do two of those here. Not a bad plan, and actually a pretty smart follow-up to the previous movie's Frantic Family Dinner.

If you missed the first Table for Six, it involved three step- and half-brothers meeting for dinner, with middle brother Bernard bringing older brother Steve's ex-girlfriend Monica. A year or two later, Steve is doing wildlife photography in Africa, while Bernard (Louis Cheung Kai-Chung) has started a wedding planning business, fronted by Meow Meow (Lin Min-Chen), the Taiwanese influencer whom the absent brother had brought to the party to show he Wasn't Upset At All, and youngest brother Lung (Peter Chan Charm-Man), an Esports star on the outs with his team. Monica (Stephy Tang Lai-Yan) is the thematic curator, and Lung's on-again, off-again girlfriend Josephine "Jo-Jo" Thin (Ivana Wong Yuen-Chi) handles catering. They launch with both the implication that Meow and Lung are a couple and an elaborate fake proposal from Bernard to Monica that they both wind up deciding to make real - and then Jo-Jo pushes to Lung to marry while her 98-year-old Grandmother is still alive, while Meow weighs an offer from her agency to move to Japan.

Where the previous film was a relatively contained affair, taking place over one night and if not always in the brothers' shared apartment, at least in its orbit, it being such a big hit has given Chan a lot more room to spread things out, to the point where more or less all of this movie takes place at either the flashy launch event or two fairly elaborate weddings, which lets Chan and his crew go for big, colorful environments and costumes, and the excess is a large part of the joke, with the amount of gold on one of Jo-Jo's dresses making it almost impossible for her to move and Lung's gaming-inspired outfits at times even more elaborate than Meow's cutesy get-ups. Chan is going for big, goofy screwball here - I said the first reminded me of one of those 1980s Hong Kong comedies where there was no time to actually write the bits that tied the jokes together, and he leans into that in Bernard's elaborate proposal - and it works more often than not, though sometimes in unexpected ways, such as when the lost wedding ring bit leads to people getting the chance to be wrong about who a pregnancy test belongs to.

Another bit, where the characters rattle off their complicated relationships, lets him highlight the found-family themes, and while I don't know the reason for the large Dayo Wong-shaped hole in the movie, he at least uses it to let Meow fret about where she fits in the group if she's not the "de facto sister-in-law". Still, the fact that he is so conspicuously absent from two brothers' weddings is weirder than it's treated as being, and the contrast to a group of uncles still holding a grudge over a similar situation is a bit odd without him there. The brothers' blended family does make a sort of interesting comparison to Monica's bifurcated one, though.

Speaking of which, if the standout of the first film was Lin Min-Chen's wide-eyed, saccharine-seeming influencer Meow being surprisingly level-headed and sensible, Jeffrey Ngai Tsun-Sung's "Mark Gor", a hunky young Canto-pop idol who is a slovenly mess when not on camera but not at all shy about being a pretty distraction when it's helpful is a reliable is an awful reliable source of comedy here. Chan mines a great deal of comedy out of internet appearances not entirely being reality without making it what the movie is about beyond it just being another way farce is driven by misapprehensions. He's also pretty good about not extending this sort of thing stupidly or maliciously - one of the more charming things about this movie is that Bernard is honest with Monica when a lot of screenplays would have him continue a lie.

Indeed, a lot of the cast is able to manage likable and funny at once pretty well. Lin, in particular, gets to have an expanded role and a more complex character, but she does not-as-dumb-as-you-expect well even when the joke is her occasional using the wrong word in Cantonese. Stephy Tang and Louis Cheung are a lot of fun together as frantic complementary types, and Ivana Wong is really good at playing right up to the line where her sarcasm and slapstick-violent temper would stop being funny.

It's all good enough that I kind of wish the first film was more readily available, since I thought it was just okay but quite enjoyed this one. It's a rare solid romantic comedy sequel that has no need to roll back its originator, and those don't come around particularly often.

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