What a Wonderful World

Reviewed by YTSL

Andy Lau playing a dying man (who wants to end his life on a high -- or at least memorable -- note).  Wah Jai trying to be convincingly earnest and winning.  His big nose being oh so prone to bleed in a quite photogenic manner.  The high cheek-boned Cantopop Sky King shown wearing a trademark white undershirt.  If this 1996 Samson Chiu helmed and co-scripted -- along with Wong Ho Wa and Tang Kit Ming -- effort also had had its star astride a powerful motorcycle, fitted out in way too tight jeans or leather trousers and in a role of an sometimes insolent but always honorable Triad, it would have succeeded in incorporating just about every Andy Lau cliche known to this Hong Kong movie (re)viewer and possibly made the day of fans of one of the most prolific actor-singers alive.

As it stands though, Andy Lau’s part in WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD is in some ways a somewhat atypical one for him.  Although his San Chung Wah character is the surely not particularly ambitious movie’s main man in terms of his being the one with the most screen time, this globe-trotting ace TV reporter -- who learns that he’s suffering from a potentially fatal disease but refuses to allow his doctor (a cameo appearance making Kent Cheng) to treat him in favor of dying on the job (like the photo-journalist who sacrificed himself by staying on Mount St. Helens to indelibly capture images of the erupting volcano that a gwailo friend (who comes in the form of Paul Fonoroff) tells him about) -- actually ends up as the reaction person to two other individuals; both of whom could be said to be flawed characters yet are shown to have outlooks on life that make them personalities that (even) a man with more limited time left on earth than most other people can appreciate and would do well to learn from plus seek to emulate.
Singapore-based Gump Chung Shan (not the easiest role for the never unlikable Kenny Bee to essay) first comes to the attention of Wah as the focus of a sensational news story that the newsman gets the plum assignment to cover.  Like Nick Leeson (whose reckless trading bankrupted the previously venerable Barings Bank), Shan single-handedly caused widespread chaos to break out in the financial world after inadvertently making some seriously disastrous stock brokering decisions.  Now wanted by the authorities, he’s gone into hiding and on the run, and become the sought after prey of a whole slew of camera-clicking plus tape-recording news hounds as well as potentially meaner and more dangerous gun-toting cum -wielding individuals.
At some point, Wah not only comes face to face with Shan but is taken hostage by the desperate individual whose immediate plans do not seem to go beyond (illegally) crossing into neighboring Malaysia.  After successfully doing so by boarding a train that serves those two countries, the rather hapless duo manage to get lost in:  First, a jungle; and then a vast, people-free section of a scenic tea plantation.  As seems to be the way in movies (but probably less so real life), the two men find themselves with plenty of opportunity to talk and become better acquainted with each other in the couple of days that they are alone -- bar for animals like an enormous, fat and, fortunately for them, slow-moving python -- in the Malaysian outdoors.  In the process, Shan divulges that “money covered my eyes”, offers to Wah the maxim that “You own your life.  Treasure it or not is up to you” and -- perhaps most pertinently, for the purposes of this hardly complexly plotted film -- entrusts his new friend with contacting a woman he loves, should anything happen to him.
Upon his return to Singapore with an “exclusive” story about Shan, Wah goes to pay a visit to the truly “happy hooker” who managed to leave a major impression on Shan despite his having only been with her for a total of four times. As played by Theresa Lee, Chu doesn’t bear much of a resemblance to Xaviera Hollander.  Instead, she seems to be a cross between Anita Yuen’s energetic and upbeat “C’est la Vie, Mon Cheri” character, Faye Wong’s “Chungking Express” sprite and the cute waif the Canadian-Chinese actress essayed in “Love is Not a Game But a Joke”.  Although Chu’s (second) appearance in WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD is what effectively sends the movie deep into a highly improbable realm (many of whose premises -- particularly those that get introduced in the “jungle” section of this undeniably naive, and sometimes downright ignorant, work -- are very hard to take seriously, even when one knows that they’re only there to help move the story along), she -- and the fresh-faced actress who portrays her -- it is who (also) turns out to be the otherwise quite mediocre offering’s trump card.
Be it by way of her teaching Wah that situations and things don’t have to be perfect in order to be wonderful, the goodwill she extended to the many and diverse group of men who have been her clients or her unorthodox methods of dealing with sad and other not great feelings, Chu shows herself to be a genuine gem of a human being -- the kind of individual that one would feel blessed to know.  While her very presence in the movie does not actually manage to make the whole work into that which I can honestly recommend that others view, it did offer up the nice notion that, if there exists individuals like her out there, WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD it could be...

My rating for this film:  5.5