The Extra

Reviewed by YTSL
 

Although some Hong Kong movies really do successfully straddle different -- and maybe even transcend -- genres (the great "Peking Opera Blues" readily comes to mind), efforts like this one show how difficult such actually is to accomplish.  The problem here is that the makers of this piece seem in two minds as to what they want it to be:  I.e., an earnest meditation or a fun-making satire re people involved -- often to a lesser than greater degree -- with the Hong Kong film industry (one which was in the doldrums in 1998 but still had its star system and -- a statement made several times in this movie -- some dedicated actors and others).  Considering that its star, screenwriter, director and producer are one and the same person (Alfred Cheung), I think we know who is to blame for this work being messy as well as rather mediocre.

Law Kar-Ying, Alfred Cheung, Law Koon Lan
It's sad that THE EXTRA constitutes particularly disappointing viewing fare because it does have a rather novel as well as intriguing plot premise:  That which centers on a modest individual, an insurance agent for the most part of the movie, who sincerely aspires to be -- i.e., is largely not even really -- a film extra.  How low are the ambitions of this character?  Consider that he would be quite happy, and feel his life goal is achieved, to portray a piece of wood, a dummy or some kind of shit (literally!) -- three things we actually are shown people trying to be in an acting class! -- or act as the deliverer of room service, whose wife has cuckolded him in the very hotel in which he works.  How dedicated is he to pursuing his goal?  Witness the considerable efforts that he goes to to know what it really is like to be what he is asked to play and to truly get into the spirit of the particular -- often peculiar; not just bit -- parts he gets assigned (by his agent cum acting teacher:  Law Koon Lan).
Francis Ng and Alfred Cheung
And it's not as if THE EXTRA does not take pains to show us the kind of life led by the title character.  Presumably, this is done so that we can sympathize with him (Seeing that he has:  A father who he loves but is -- in the words of the son -- "a vegetable"; many clients on his case-book who similarly look like they are fated to never recover and rejoin the non-comatose world; and a sleazy boss (portrayed by some zest by Law Kar-Ying) who pays him to spy on his co-workers and make reports re whether they gossip, are lazy, say and think ill of the senior man at work or in their spare time, etc.).  However, and somewhat paradoxically to my mind, it seems that we are also expected to at times laugh at or get frustrated with this good-hearted but misguided fellow.
Cheung and Christine Ng
Even more inexplicable is the shallow treatment meted out to headlined actor Francis Ng's character.  E.g, amidst the discussion and laments by others about the depressing monetary situations into which they had unexpectedly fallen, it doesn't make sense for the admittedly laid-back individual's job loss -- something which his best friend, the extra, is somewhat responsible for -- to be taken as just a minor inconvenience in his life (The chances are high that the local audience might have had particular problems identifying with this viewpoint since the film was released in Hong Kong during the recent East Asian Economic Crisis).  Then there is the unforgivably blase presentation of the fan girl who surely did not deserve what she got from her idol (N. B. I sincerely hope this curious peripheral character -- portrayed by the underutilized May Law -- was not in the picture as just a strangely comic figure).
Law Kar-Ying and Jaime Luk
At more than one point in THE EXTRA, I found myself thinking that Alfred Cheung may well be too entrenched in the movie world (witness his being able to enlist such as Christine Ng, Almen Wong, Simon Lui, Mang Hoi and Ng Chi Hung to make cameo appearances in this work) to really know -- and therefore believably depict -- what it's like to be on the fringe of the film industry or on the outside looking in.  Yet, if this is so, whither Stephen Chow and Derek Yee?  In any case, my suggestion to those whose interest has been piqued by the description of this movie's focus is that they opt for Chow's "King of Comedy" (whose title character is "a damn extra" who wants to be a respected actor) and Yee's "Viva Erotica" (in which Leslie Cheung stars as a director who has to "descend" to making Category IIIers to make a living) instead.

My rating for this film:  5.


DVD Information:

Distributed by Wide Sight

The transfer is watchable - but certainly mediocre.

Letterboxed

Subtitles:  Burnt on Chinese and English.

There is no menu - thus no chapters and no trailers.

The sub-titles are generally easy to read.