2012, colour, 2.35:1, 92 mins
Directed by Pang Ho-cheung (彭浩翔)
By Derek Elley
Tue, 31 July 2012, 17:45 PM (HKT)
Rough-and-ready satire of low-end Hong Kong filmmaking is what it is, and no more. Asian events, plus niche ancillary.
Hong Kong, the present day. Low-end film producer To Wai-cheung (Chapman To) gives a master class to students at a university, moderated by Professor Cheng (Lawrence Cheng). Asked about product placement, he tells a story in which his pitch to an insurance company was screwed up by his assistant, overseas Chinese Lau Sin-yee (Fiona Sit), wrongly altering his presentation. On the subject of raising finance, he recounts a memorable dinner in Beihai, Guangxi province, China, with a potential investor, gangster Tyrannosaurus (Ronald Cheng), who wanted him to remake his favourite erotic costume drama from his youth, Confession of a Concubine (官人我要, 1976), with the same actress, Yum Yum Shaw. Tyrannosaurus suggested the title Confessions of Two Concubines (官人我又要). Back in Hong Kong, Wai-cheung couldn't persuade Yum Yum Shaw (Susan Shaw), now in her 60s, to take the part; but he got an old friend, Blackie Tak (Matt Chow), then running an illegal gambling den, to agree to direct. Wai-cheung was behind on his alimony payments to his ex-wife, barrister Tsang Lai-fun (Kristal Tin); when she told him to look after their young daughter Siu-kuen (Jacqueline Chan) while she was on a business trip to Shanghai, Wai-cheung was helped by wannabe starlet Tsui Ka-yan, aka "Popping Candy" (Dada Chan). Yum Yum Shaw finally agreed to take the part when Wai-cheung came up with the idea of using CGI to put her face on to Ka-yan's body in the sex scenes. Production was finally ready to start - but more problems were to follow.
Vulgaria 低俗喜劇 is what it is, and no more — a rough-and-ready comedy about the lower end of the film industry, shot on the hoof (in a rapid 12 days), absolutely Hong Kong in its humour (the dialogue only really works in Cantonese), and with not much structure beyond a series of sketches. Most of all, it's a return to roots by maverick director PANG Ho-cheung 彭浩翔, a deliberately free-wheeling blast of energy by a film-maker who seems to need to let off some steam at a time when he's becoming too conventional mainstream (Love in a Puff 志明與春嬌 (2010), Love in the Buff 春嬌與志明). On that level, it works fine: the film has more hits than misses in its jokes, and the cameo-heavy structure keeps things moving. It's exactly what its Chinese title says, A Comedy in Poor Taste.
Pang has been here before, from different angles: film-making satire (You Shoot, I Shoot 買兇拍人 (2001)), erotic film-making (AV ＡＶ (2005)) and racy dialogue (Love in a Puff). Vulgaria throws it all together and, from the film's opening with a 10-second pause for easily offended viewers to leave the cinema, it wears its shock value on its sleeve. And that's the biggest problem with the movie: as in Love in a Puff, Pang's desire to shock too often gets in the way of the real humour. Only in one sequence does Pang really hit the mark and spend the time developing a whole setpiece: a dinner with a Mainland gangster financier (beautifully over-played by comedian Ronald CHENG 鄭中基) that sends up things like extravagance in New China, triad face-saving and Hong Kong kowtowing to Mainland money — and climaxes, literally, with a bang.
Most of the other scenes are more like brief comedy sketches littered with sex-jokes. Some work okay (such as a wannabe starlet describing her idea for a masturbation videogame), while others (Miriam YEUNG 楊千嬅 cameoing as an equal opportunities officer) don't spark as they should. The best stuff, in fact, is when Pang stops trying to shock his audience and lets the characters develop on their own: at its rather soft heart, the film is more about a divorced father trying to connect with his young daughter, or recover his self-esteem by launching a successful franchise, than an expose of the seamier side of Hong Kong film-making.
As the producer who'll literally do anything to raise a dollar (including copulating with a mule), Chapman TO 杜汶澤 is nicely cast, managing to hint at a real character beneath the producer-ly show-acting. (To's scenes with his real wife, actress Kristal TIN 田蕊妮, as his acerbic ex, also hit the spot.) And several of the cameos — '70s sexpot Yum Yum Shaw (now Susan SHAW 邵音音) and Hong Kong-based Japanese actor HAYAMA Hiro 葉山豪, as themselves — have a good-humoured warmth. But the best performance, apart from To's, is by 23-year-old newcomer Dada CHAN 陳靜, a Shanghai-born model (aka E-Cup Goddess Dada 百果園Ｅ神), as a starlet with a special gift who's known as "Popping Candy". Chan manages to blend sexiness, innocence and knowingness into a character who, in comic terms, is the most real character in the whole movie.
Technically, the film is nothing special, but that doesn't get in the way of the antics.
ContactSales: Golden Scene, Hong Kong (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Premiere: Hong Kong Film Festival (Hong Kong Panorama), 27 Mar 2012. Theatrical release: Hong Kong, 9 Aug 2012.
Presented by Sun Entertainment Culture (HK). Produced by Making Film Productions (HK). Executive producer: Alex Dong. Producers: Subi Liang, Pang Ho-cheung.
Script: Pang Ho-cheung, Lam Chiu-wing, Jody Luk. Original story: Pang Ho-cheung. Photography: Jason Kwan. Editing: Wenders Li. Music: Alan Wong, Janet Yung. Art direction: Ho Lok-lam. Costumes: Ho Lok-lam. Sound: Tat Leung, Ken Wong. Visual effects: Bart Wong.
Cast: Chapman To (To Wai-cheung), Ronald Cheng (Tyrannosaurus), Dada Chan (Tsui Ka-yan, "Popping Candy"), Susan Shaw (Yum Yum Shaw), Simon Loui (Lui Wing-shing), Matt Chow (Blackie Tak), Kristal Tin (Tsang Lai-fun, Wai-cheung's ex-wife), Hayama Hiro (himself), Lam Suet (Wah-tao, Tyrannosaurus' sidekick at dinner), Lawrence Cheng (Professor Cheng), Fiona Sit (Lau Sin-yee/Quin, Wai-cheung's assistant), Miriam Yeung (Miss Leung, equal opportunities officer), Jim Chim (Fireworks Lau), Vincent Kok (Playboy Condoms manager), Nora Miao (Miss Cheung, schoolteacher), Jimmy Wan, Wu Ka-lok, Huang Lu, Lil Mie (students at master class), Cheung Yuk-wah (Tyrannosaurus' other sidekick), Jacqueline Chan (To Siu-kuen/Jacqueline, Wai-cheung's daughter), Ray Pang (Pang Lap-wai, "Fat Wai"), Fanny Lee (Mrs. Leung), Lawrence Chou (policeman), Chan Hoi-yan (production manager), Keaton Pang (tealady), Benny Lau (Entertainment Scoop reporter), Tam Wan-kat (Entertainment Scoop cameraman), Mak Ling-ling (hypnotist).