Thursday, March 22, 2012

[HKIFF 2012 Review] Vulgaria (低俗喜劇 / Di Su Xi Ju) (World Premiere)

Posing for a Job

A disclaimer comes on before the movie starts proper to remind everyone that it's going to be a super vulgar affair, and given 10 seconds to leave the screening room/hall if one is offended by politically insensitive remarks that's found in almost every minute of the film, before signing off with an expletive that any other damages suffered after watching the film is none of the filmmaker's business. Welcome to Vulgaria, with producer-director-co-writer Edmond Pang Ho Cheung pulling out all the stops in making a film about filmmaking from a producer's point of view, peppered with expletives that would even make Tarantino blush.

The stage is set with heavy grunge music in the opening credits reminiscent of exploitation movies, before it opens with Chapman To on a stage waiting for a public lecture to commence. To plays film producer To Wai-Chueng, an obvious moniker to the director Pang himself, invited by a film professor to speak to his students about film producing, who breaks the fourth wall constantly to interact and engage audiences directly. In Pang's filmography he had made films involving filmmakers before, with his earlier works like You Shoot, I Shoot and A.V. but this one takes a more instructional, albeit comedic, take on what it takes to produce a film. If you're clueless about what a film producer does, then perhaps this hilarious offering will be right up your alley.

And that is in the most raunchy explanation ever, where Pang shows off his hilariously filthy mind through the character of To, using an analogy that has to be listened to first hand, comparing a film producer's function with that of pubes, moving the narrative along in Q&A fashion involving flashbacks into his latest foray of a production, drawing upon those experiences and sharing it with the students and us, the audience. Much of the story centers around To's film project, in what would be a mirror to Hong Kong films these days, the experience of having to make movies with the injection of Mainland Chinese money, and the lengths one would go through to secure funding, and with that comes the evil necessities such as compromises and meddling from financiers.

In To's case, his financial backer happens to be Brother Tyrannosaurus (Ronald Cheng, in what I deem as his most effective comedic role to date), a Guang Xi chief hoodlum who has taken an interest in making films, and has the hots for actress shaw Yin Yin, who still gives him the stiffy when he sees her in an old Shaw Bros pic. So he funds and commissions To on the remake called Confessions of a Concubine and insists that Shaw, now a senior citizen, in the role. But not before a roundtable of festivities involving exotic foods, drink, and in an act of friendship, offers his wife to To for shagging; you will never see another mule again without thinking of Vulgaria. This entire, extended episode becomes the fulcrum for the first act, is extremely funny and a hark back to the good ol toilet humour that Wong Jing used to do with pinache, now having the ante upped through Pang's not having a handbrake on in censoring oneself, and setting the bar for the most unbelievable things ever said and happen on screen.

So what does a film producer actually do? He makes things happen with the resources at hand, or seeks out avenues to expand those resources. We go through the hoops that he has to jump through as well, navigating sticky situations to get his project off the ground, made worst when he has to deal with an estranged hotshot lawyer spouse ever so keen in wanting to cut off contact with their daughter. Then there's a strawberry of a generation gap with his none-too-reliable secretary/assistant Quin (Fiona Sit, last seen opposite Chapman in Mr and Mrs Gambler), who sues him for sexual harrassment. But things aren't always looking down since there's a whiff of romance in the air with "Popping Candy" Tsui Ka-Yan (Dada Chan), with a penchant for warming To's bed, or car. Subplots like these offer a little bit of a narrative distruption, but thanks to well injected humour put in, they never feel unwelcome for little funny surprises that pop up now and then.

The film gets really referential in the second half about contemporary movie making, and since the fictional film here is to do with Category III, there are numerous pot shots at the genre as well, poking fun at the much talked about exploding bodies scenes in Sex and Zen 3D, and even getting actor Hiro Hayama in a role to act opposite Tsui Ka-Yan, whose in the movie only for a body, wearing a green mask in which Shaw Yin Yin's face will be digitally grafted onto, to satisfy Brother Tyrannosaurus' funding requirements. Alas in desperation to find a way to call it quits, this section ends quite abruptly, before shifting gears to talk about marketing efforts before you know it.

Pang Ho Cheung has two films making their debut at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival, and they're both on different ends of the spectrum, showing Pang's versatility as a filmmaker and storyteller, being able to entertain and move depending on the genre of film he's tackling, with this being fun and funny all round. Be sure to catch this wherever you can, and for film producer wannabes, this film is definitely for you. Be sure to stay in your seats when the credits roll for its real epilogue.

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