I guess one good turn deserves another, so following the well received 72 Tenants of Prosperity, Eric Tsang once again rounds up the who's who in Hong Kong entertainment to come up with yet another offering for the Lunar New Year period with a star studded ensemble cast leading the charge against another produced by Raymong Wong. As far as Hong Kong comedies go, this is cooked up to perfect Mo Lei Tau (nonsensical) standards in bringing on the laughs, with spoofs and physical comedy galore to tickle your funny bone.
The main crux of the story takes place in what would be the Hong Kong equivalent of Singapore's HDB flats, where its tenants stay in modest apartments forming close knit communities. This of course runs parallel to Eric Tsang's earlier film in 72 Tenants last year, with stories set around the neighbourhood and revolving around characters in the community. Here we are introduced to the Ng family, where a failed business in China meant Ng Shun (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) and wife Shun So (Sandra Ng) having to uproot their home back to Aberdeen where their father Ng Tung (Stanley Fung) stays, which of course brings back various memories of key incidents in Shun's life through a series of flashbacks. In tow are their three kids Ng Ming (Aarif Lee credited as Aarif Rahman here) an employee at the Food and Environmental Hygiene department, a wannabe model Ng Chi (Mag Lam) too conservative for the industry, and Ng King (Chan Wing Lam) the youngest daughter.
In comes Lung (Eric Tsang) the neighbour and good friend of Ng Shun, whose abrupt disappearance years back also demolished his credibility and casted doubts on his integrity when he was alleged to have siphoned off the community's charity fund, but as the story wore on with Bosco Wong and Wong Cho-Lam playing the youth versions of Shun and Lung, it opened up to plenty of flashbacks, most of which are simply side-splitting hilarious, laced with nostalgia of the times. This is in effect the narrative style of 72 Tenants, though if compared to the latter, this one lacked a more coherent plot - if you have read the synopsis of the film then it gives you the broad outline of the story, which you don't really get to see it all put on film. Which is a pity because scenes get put together in quite disparate fashion, as if extracting the best of in what's shot, and leaving out plenty of coherent story details.
But if it's a comedy you want then it's a comedy you'll get. With the number of comedians on board, Mo Lei Tau was the order of the day in joke design, poking fun at the quirks of everyday living, as well as carefully crafted set pieces that are reminisce of Hong Kong movies of old, such as ghost films and a direct spoof of Johnny To's The Mission, right down to Lam Suet in a starring role. At times it dug at its own plot development with mock lament that such tales could only happen in films, drawing attention where sometimes art imitates life, and vice versa. Sandra Ng is probably at her element here with great physical comedy and perfect timing when her character got roped in to an emergency television shoot where her "calafare" role meant getting physically abused by Wayne Lai, and an inexplicable development involving being cling wrapped. Other highlights include Tony Leung and Eric Tsang trying to wriggle their way out of a fix when their shenanigans got exposed in a bread shop, or a scene involving the delivery of a baby and the use of a suction pump, ala the Bollywood film 3 Idiots.
There are times when some social commentary and awareness topics got worked into the story, such as how checks are made on the tenants to ensure no overcrowding, the crookedness of how come business conduct themselves in the pursuit of increasing revenues, the immorality of real estate conglomerates in trying to disrupt lives through "redevelopment" projects, or even preachy ones such as the monologue on illegal hawking. But I suppose even if you tend to switch off during these moments, there is no lack of spot-the-stars to entertain oneself since almost every single character that makes an appearance here, is played by a who's who. See if you can spot as many as the touted 198 stars on display in a single film!
And for as long as we continue to have Hong Kong films dubbed, I will continue to add that some of the jokes will definitely get lost in translation. Sandra Ng had a hilarious scene where she dresses down and adopts a more Chinese accented Cantonese in order to obtain some special privileges when in the market. The joke was hinged entirely on a none too subtle mispronunciation that got totally tanked when in Mandarin, losing everything to a non Mandarin equivalent to try and bring the joke across, and naturally falling flat. There are other instances in the film that continues to baffle why an audience here cannot enjoy a Hong Kong film for what it is, after all, some DVDs here do get offered in multiple language tracks, Cantonese included. Let's not kid ourselves, Hong Kongers can speak Mandarin, but face it, Cantonese is the lingua franca of the city.
Without a doubt this star-studded film will attract its staple audience weaned on the many HK films and TVB drama serials, and its feel good factor of family and neighbourliness are always welcomed topics during this festive period of good tidings.