Tuesday, January 17, 2012

All's Well Ends Well 2012 (八星抱喜 / Baat Seng Bou Hei)

That's The Way We Like It

If you're consistently holed up in a cinema, you'll still know it's Lunar New Year just around the corner when the lineup of releases include a Jack Neo film, an action blockbuster, and from Hong Kong, yet another film from the All's Well Ends Well series, which is into its number 7th show and extremely dedicated to its own formula of screen success. Except for the first which has its place amongst some of the best in Hong Kong, the sequels are nothing much to shout about, entertaining masses of families out during this period of merrymaking and visiting, that it has to cater for the lowest common denominator.

All's Well Ends Well 2012 is that unlikely surprise that was better than expected, although still plagued by the usual shortcomings where one shouldn't be looking toward any great storyline or characters, being light in plot so that it serves its purpose as a Lunar New Year period film that allows you to laugh along. This time round it brings Donnie Yen back for another outing, and unites him with series veteran Raymond Wong, Sandra Ng and even Louis Koo who is into his third contribution to this never-say-die series. In fact this is one of those films that doesn't demand a whole lot of story to be made, is rooted firmly toward the romantic comedy genre, and comes with an expected ending where all couples will have their differences resolved, before breaking the fourth wall at the epilogue to wish the audience a prosperous new year.

Feminists may find issue with the film from the get go, because its premise talks about how women will always need a man in their lives to take care of some of the more technical aspects that they may encounter, from changing of the light bulb to fending off threats in whatever form. And because of this innate need, a website called Baoxi.com gets created, which becomes the throwaway tool piece that every character in the film relies upon to get themselves acquainted with members of the opposite sex - where the woman puts up an ad for help that she thinks only a man can offer, and the man responding to those ads in order to do something worthwhile with their lives. The reward is of course friendship, and a non-obligatory, non-compulsory hug. That's what the website preaches, and the 8 personalities who got hooked to the site, become the 4 distinct short stories found in this installment.

Louis Koo stars as Kin the construction worker who's filled with supreme confidence, and doesn't shy away from speaking less than perfect English, being consistently looked up upon by fellow peers. He offers his help as a nude model to Kelly Lin's Julie Sun the photographer who's building a series of works for an exhibition, whose mentor urges her to flirt with her subject in order to gain more powerful, meaningful images. While Kelly Lin may look a little bit wooden in her delivery, Louis Koo steals this short, and in fact the entire film, with his average joe temperament whose infatuation becomes the better of him. And yes of course his deliberate, less than stellar command of the English language is something that provided plenty of laughter.

Donnie Yen puts on a ridiculous wig (as do many male characters in this film) to star as Carl Tam, a small time musician with a penchant for singing Sam Hui songs, who was part of a disbanded group known as Moment, seeking his next big career break. While his stewardess girlfriend goes on duty, he offers his services on Baoxi.com to Sandra Ng's Chelsia, who's also a one time famous half of a pop duo until she unceremoniously quit the scene from an embarrassing fall on stage during a performance. Wanting to impress her mentor (Maria Cordero), she gets Carl to pose as her rich boyfriend only for the ruse to be exposed, and gatecrashes Carl's life, only for the latter to try and lift her spirits, and together, find an opportunity to make music and a comeback to an industry that has already forgotten them. Donnie Yen tries hard, at times too hard to be young at heart and a rocker inside, although he does possess some nifty dance moves that will wow. It is instead the veteran comedian Sandra Ng who stole the show here, and her 80s performance in a Karaoke-ish music video, serves as one of the rare highlights of the entire film.

Chapman To plays Hugo, the greatest romantic novelist never before seen or identified, because his publisher believes his image as a wonderful romantic lover will be shattered when readers come to know of his ugly looks. Personally I felt that there's a slight cheekiness here where his entire look and feel seemed a lot like famous Hong Kong director Peter Chan. That aside, he's tasked by the orphanage director to make blind dancer Charmaine (Lynn Xiong) to experience briefly what true love is, and does so with plenty of creativity since she's blind and can't see what shenanigans he's up to, relying on her other senses (and for the audience a series of light touches in visual effects) to be bathed in the fantastical world that he uses his words, and cheap effects, to craft. A really rote story that deals with one's unwillingness to accept the flaws of another while being flawed oneself, Chapman To has got to get brownie points for his Peter Chan-ish mimicry, whether intentional or otherwise.

And an All's Well Ends Well movie is never complete without one of its mastermind actors Raymond Wong in a role, and he stars as a professor facing estranged ties with his daughter Carmen (Karena Ng of Magic to Win in which he also co-starred in). He goes to Baoxi.com to hone is fatherly loving skills for rich kid Cecilia (Yang Mi) who has to get married quickly to any of her selected 3 beaus so as to claim the massive inheritance left behind by her deceased real dad. Raymond Wong found opportunity to wear his Qing dynasty robes once again in a small scene in recognition of his Happy Ghost days, in what would be the weakest of the stories featured, especially since it went nowhere outside of its creation of three tests to weed out the last man standing amongst the 3 potential suitors that you'd know from the start who will emerge the victor.

Directors Chan Hing Ka and Janet Chun may have something for weird hairdos, having almost all their male leads sport hairstyles that will draw instant laughter the minute the actors appear on screen. They should have stayed focused on their directing craft, having their inexperience still showing in having segments put together in rather choppy fashion, with the stories hardly intertwining one another and the characters hardly ever interacting save a minor scene in the final third of the movie. Most scenes turn out to be episodic with each featured couple tackling something, with the narrative thankfully working for most of them, and toning down the many mo-lei-tau opportunities. Having the many veteran actors here severely hamming it up in over the top roles may also serve as a draw since they are really breaking out of their comfort zone. Especially Donnie Yen after his highly successful Ip Man series where he has to now play really comical roles that relies heavily on his non-existant comic timing.

Perhaps this time around the filmmakers are a little bit more sensitive to the stories, and tried to unify the different elements of love under that of a loving embrace, where tasks and deeds are done through assistance that come with little or no strings attached, and rewards are in the form on an act of affection. It may be the directors have high hopes that the world would be a better place with a little bit more care and concern shown in our everyday lives, and what better way to spread this message than through a film meant for festive cheer.

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