Play with Strangers

Reviewed by YTSL

Forget "Charlie's Angels", "Waterworld" and "Titanic"!  The chances are high that this low key as well as no frills feeling production had a budget that was one tenth that of "Tokyo Raiders" or "Summer Holiday".  Nevertheless, I really did find the very modest offering to be quite a bit more enjoyable -- and way less formulaic -- than those other year 2000 Hong Kong movies (neither of which spent too much time in their producers' home territory) as well as presumably those expensive Hollywood baubles which I opted to not watch.  For one thing, how often does one get an opportunity to view a filmic effort whose main character:  Describes himself as a professional bootlicker; falls in love with a woman who loves borscht, Teletubbies and James Yuen films; and decides to help out three ghosts from being condemned to wander around rather than get to go to either heaven or hell?!

Roy Cheung stars in this Albert Mak helmed movie as a low lifer -- alternately referred to as Roy and Young Cheung in PLAY WITH STRANGERS' English subtitles -- who works at being such as the fourth hand in poker games played by demanding rich men who have money to burn but can't find a friend to fill that extra slot.  One early morning, just as he is about to rendezvous with three of his previous night's clients, he hears a radio report of their having been gunned down shortly after he left their company.  The next moment, one of them shows up -- looking like nothing exceptional has happened, bar for his clearly having a bullet hole in his chest -- and gets the frightened man into a room where the other two -- who have similar bullet holes in their chests -- awaited them.
The mournful looking Rain Lu (who is portrayed by Simon Loui), a not very bright acting Snow Yung (who comes in the form of Lam Suet) and the more conventional looking Romeo Leung (who gets played by Louis Yuen) proceed to explain to Roy/Young Cheung that they had indeed been shot dead but were told by an afterlife way-station official (essayed by executive producer Henry Fong Ping) that they needed to find out the identity of their killer so as to not be condemned to restlessly wander the earth for eternity.  When the still alive member of this quartet asks why he is being told this story, it gets revealed that the ghost trio -- who cannot touch anything or anyone other than the last living person whose face they saw before they died -- need his help to learn who was their masked murderer.
Fortunately, there aren't too many suspects for this crime.  More specifically, fingers rather quickly fall on the individual who cried off being the fourth hand in the previous evening's ill-fated poker game:  The dead trio's supposedly good friend and Rain's business partner, Henry Yip (who is played by the often too-good-looking-to-be-true Jimmy Wong).  The bigger problem that lies ahead though concerns the getting of the suspect himself to truthfully confirm whether the validity of the condemnatory thoughts.  For assistance in doing this, the men looked to someone who was (still) working in the company Henry Yip now headed.  She comes in the agreeable form of Romeo's (ex-)girlfriend, Carman (who gets portrayed by the wonderful Ruby Wong).
Since PLAY WITH STRANGERS' audience will invariably get charmed by the film's quietly delightful main female character, it is only to be expected that Roy/Young Cheung falls for her too.  Although it may initially seem like a plot distraction, this (re)viewer actually does reckon that this romantic development is something that not only adds, but is in fact integral, to one's overall appreciation of this generally surprisingly gentle movie.  This also is the case with regards to those -- sometimes quiet, other times quirky, most times quite humbling and humble -- meditations, regrets, concerns and cares that the dead trio have about their ghostly status and the loved ones whose lives they now can only connect with and affect in their dreams.  That much of this is so effectively affecting is due in no small part to the work's able actors, who here were given more than their usual amount of chances to make their characters sympathetic and three-dimensional.

My rating for the film:  6.5