Help !!!


It’s not that I disliked this film, it’s just that ultimately I found it somewhat empty and dissatisfying. I certainly appreciate seeing HK films go off into interesting directions and tackle different sorts of subjects – and this Milkyway production certainly does that. In fact, Milkyway has done that all this year by forsaking the edgy suspense films of their past to make a social drama (Spacked Out), a screwball comedy (Needing You) and this attempt at black social satire. I certainly missed their former types of films – but a company or an artist can’t keep mining the same territory forever – and needs to reinvigorate themselves from time to time. I almost feel guilty for not enjoying this film more.

The film seems to be trying to mix the biting satire of Lindsay Anderson, the Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmares of Terry Gilliam and the comradeship amidst insanity of Mash. And parts of it are wonderful – very funny and clever – but black comedy must be the most difficult type of humor to sustain for an entire film – and here it starts to lose its edge and bite much too soon. The first twenty minutes of the film is terrific social satire – but then it begins wandering off into other misguided directions – its gets soft – and the main characters are just not interesting enough to make you care at all about them. When the most enjoyable characters in a film are in the supporting cast, you know there is something missing in the script. The comic team of Lam Suet and Hui Sui-Hung are easily the best part of the film (building on their smaller teaming in Needing You).

The film appears to be an attack on the medical care received in Hong Kong and takes place in Ho Kau Kei Hospital (though the hospital itself is apparently a symbol for HK) where the patients are the last thing the staff seem concerned about. The opening scene shows concerned hospital staff rushing about saving patients – only for the camera to pull back to reveal that we have been watching a TV show – and in this hospital no one is rushing about – unless it is quitting time. As Lam Suet mutters to himself “No hospital is like that. Ridiculous.” Ruling over this inept madness is a nameless – unseen – bureaucracy that never leaves their darkened offices – but constantly announces measures over the loud speakers regarding cost efficiencies – such as the limit on trying to resuscitate patients is twice. When the staff approaches them on tiptoe – the musical cue cleverly becomes the mouse like bit of the Nutcracker Suite (I think).
Directors Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai utilize the camera movement wonderfully to capture this world gone mad – capturing the mass exodus at leaving time like a choreographed dance number or zooming in to see the expressions of boredom on the faces of the doctors or pulling back to show the total inactivity taking place. Even the cleaning lady refuses to clean more than one urinal – so everyone has to use the same one!

Cecila Cheung is the only idealistic doctor still on the staff – and she is able to recruit Jordan Chan – bedecked initially in a horrific wig and a Volvo – into the cause of fighting the forces of darkness and making the hospital something to be proud of. They then bring back former doctor – Ekin Cheng (now a car mechanic who has set up his “patients” in an emergency ward type situation) – and the three go at it. Backing them is the philanthropist who the hospital is named after (played by veteran Lau Kau) – and who after being struck by lightning was badly mistreated by the staff.

This scene and another are played out beautifully. Lau Kau shows up at the hospital – and no one wants to take care of him – it is near quitting time – and bad luck like being hit by lightning must be deserved – so despite his protestations that he has done “only good deeds” he is passed from department to department – until he ends up in the bathroom – but the cleaning lady kicks him into the elevator where he ends up at the morgue. Then the staff realizes who he is and there is a mad rugby like scramble to reach him first.

Another brilliant bit has a patient threatening to jump off the roof because of the poor treatment he has received – and the doctors rush off like mad. Initially you assume they are going off to save the patient – but they are in fact rushing off to move their cars before he lands on one!

Scenes like this are great fun – but they all take place in the first third of the film – it then meanders off to the love triangle between the three stars – but none of it holds any interest and the comedy starts becoming repititous. None of these characters are particularly interesting – nothing about them feels real. I have seen a few comments praising Ekin’s performance – but I found it contrived and heavy – I much preferred his performance in Tokyo Raiders to the one here. Jordan simply looks put out through much of the film – and Cecilia just didn’t have much to work with – and did anyone find the recurring character of the beggar in the least bit funny?

My rating for this film: 6.0 – for a great beginning and a so-so finish.



DVD Information:

Distributed by Mei Ah

The transfer looked surprisingly mediocre - dark and dull much of the time - I wish Milkyway would stop using Mei Ah for many of their films - they keep doing a pretty shoddy job on their films.

Letterboxed

Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks - Dolby surround sound

9 Chapters

The subtitles are Chinese or English or none.

There is no trailer for this film - but there is a preview for A War Named Desire and Love Paradox.