You know it's that time of the Lunar New Year celebrations when Hong Kong cinema puts out two comedies to usher in the new year, with star studded ensembles and cameo appearances to entertain the masses, which in recent times have seen two separate camps emerge to battle it out at the box office. There's the usual All's Well End's Well crew which was in its umpteenth iteration, now having to move along to something a little bit different in treatment, having their creative juices put behind the running of Hotel Deluxe, while the TVB backed crew led by Eric Tsang and team continue in their nostalgia backed stories, with their success in having pull many stars from yesteryears out of retirement and back onto the silver screen.
So I thought why not review both films at the same time, since they're released over the same period, with the obvious target audience those celebrating Lunar New Year in this part of the world, where audiences usually are quite forgiving in what's put on screen, so long as they are family-friendly in its entertainment values. Let's go with Hotel Deluxe first, which forms the premise revolving around a core team of hotel staffers who are put under pressure to maintain their property's five star rating, despite every individual's quirks and idiosyncrasies that threaten to
There's Ronald Cheng as the assistant manager OK Pao, Chapman To as Pacino the bartender and actor wannabe, Sandra Ng as the housekeeper with OCD known as Tao Jie / Peach, and Teresa Mo as the newly minted and unpopular manager called Cruella, whose shrewd and direct tactics do not earn her any new fans. Adding to the cast are Lynn Hong and Karena Ng who play rival stars staying at the same hotel, with the former playing against type as a spoilt and hypocritical celebrity, and the latter being the idol of OK Pao, which provides some room for some sort of romantic entanglement of sorts.
But from the second act on, the story streamlines into the trying to unearth a mysterious hotel property critic who could be anyone in the film, and the sham marriage that heiress Paris, played by Fiona Sit, tries to pull off at the hotel enlisting the help of the core team, in having to fulfill the requirements for her inheritance, with Raymond Wong entering the fray as her suspecting uncle Peter Chan (a play here since he's romancing Sandra Ng's character), also having OCD which naturally draws him to romance Peach. Ronald Cheng and Fiona Sit step up into leading roles from this point on, which doesn't disappoint since they share chemistry which worked.
The jokes here can be a little bit juvenile, especially in its opening act where the crew try to drive off Eric Kot's writer character from staying longer than necessary, and antics that see them go up against Cruella. There's the requisite toilet humour put in as well, which doesn't surprise, but does expose an unnecessary low point. Subplots get introduced and quickly dropped, leading to a fairly choppy narrative, but it's nothing unexpected for a movie like this that banks on every conceivable crazy notion to try and drive humour through. Production values do come off as a little bit cheap looking , and the storyline ultra-predictable in its end result, with the customary pat on the back for a job well done and a disaster averted.
So You Wanna Hang Out Sometime?
On the other film, I Love Hong Kong 2013 revolved around the quintessential Hong Kong coffee house known as the Cha Chan Teng, where Song (Alan Tam) is forced to sell off his long standing premises in order to pay off a debt that he stood as guarantor for, much to the chargrin of wife May (Vernoica Yip) and their children, who have to put up with early reunion dinners year after year so that Song's maximization of his restaurant's time for customers' discounted reunion dinners can happen. But ultimately he has to sell off his restaurant to rival Ha (Nat Chan), contemplates suicide, if not for an angel (Eric Tsang) appearing to make him think twice.
And that's when I Love Hong Kong 2013 really kicked off, with that nostalgic look into the past, dealing with the friendship of Song and Ha, now played by Bosco Wong and Michael Tse, their pursuit of May (Kate Tsui playing the younger version) and her best friend Yuen (Joyce Cheng), and their subsequent fall out due to Ha's mounting debt. The strength here was in the episodic recount of life that's much simpler, with Song being the country bumpkin meeting up with Ha, who showed him the ropes and is responsible for Song's settling down in the colony, before events drive these two friends apart.
It's a also a romantic tale between the poor Song and the rich girl May, framed against events in Hong Kong such as the stock market boom and bust, and issues about migration, which brings in an extra flavour to this comedy that I dare say belongs to a series that's far superior than its peers during this festive period. Good use of CG blending well with production sets and art direction makes the blast from the past scenes a sight to behold, with costumes also adding a dimension of vivid re-creation. Other highlights that were enjoyable included the musical numbers that came on, being reworked from classic tunes into catchy ones that turned this into a mini-musical.
Like its predecessor that pulled Teresa Mo and singer William So back to the big screen, this one also didn't lack in its reintroduction of stars from yesteryear, as if keeping with its theme about anecdotes from the past. Singer Alan Tam plays a pudgy looking Song with his bowled haircut, cutting a very different figure from his heydays as one of the king of Cantopop, then there's Veronica Yip, one time popular Cat III actress who had faded into obscurity, until now. All I can say is age can be cruel, and she didn't age as well as fine wine. Her acting too still wasn't much to be desired (pardon the pun), so it's a good thing that the narrative focused more on the younger versions of their characters, with Kate Tsui, Bosco Wong and Michael Tse carrying the film with their charisma.
What's sorely missing in both comedies, is the Cantonese language. For years now we have not had commercial releases from Hong Kong featuring the native language because of our Speak Mandarin campaign, so the prints we obtain are those dubbed ones either from Mainland China or Taiwan, which in many ways kill the wit that's in the banter and puns used by characters. Language is always rich and unique to culture, and when we're dealing with comedy, that's one key aspect being robbed when dubbed. Both films still suffer from being dubbed versions, and it's especially irritating when you read the subtitles, and what's being said doesn't tally at all with what's being heard, emoted, and expressed.
So the verdict, and my vote goes to I Love Hong Kong 2013. Not only does it feature a more substantial storyline, its treatment of nostalgia triumphs, in addition to having a good balance between its young stars of today with those from a generation before.