All's Well End's Well (1992)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2006-02-08
From my limited perspective, Hong Kong Lunar New Year comedies are conventional, formulaic and bound by specific rules and expectations. They are celebrations of traditional values although often seem to skewer those values by showing the extremes of behavior that they can cause—the way that Sandra Ng is an unpaid domestic servant for her loutish, TV-addicted in-laws is an example here. “All’s Well End’s Well” is a very funny movie that sticks to the conventions, has the right script, a starry cast and confident direction. At the end the entire cast lines up to wish the audience good luck in the New Year, much the same way that the cast of an opera by Rossini (a master of conventional forms) comes downstage at the end of Act I to sing about how confused each of them is by the crazy plot of which they are a part. Forms and rules aren’t bad or stifling in themselves—Shakespeare’s sonnets, Haydn’s string quartets and Titian’s portraits are some examples of following a form and still transcending it.

Clifton Ko and the screenwriters here may not quite be on that level but they do a terrific job with the materials assembled for this movie. The plot is barely there—it serves to string together some episodes that illustrate the themes of the importance of family life and the necessity for order and structure to maintain the family, even while allowing a significant amount of friction among family members. Excellent performances throughout with some of the cast obviously relishing the goofiness of their characters. In Maggie Cheung’s first appearance she is wearing a bullet bra, like Madonna in “Truth or Dare”. Her sexy insouciance is a bit tawdry, a little on the cheap side but ultimately very positive and life-affirming and sets the bar quite high for the rest of the players. It also confirms a few things we already know—that Maggie is a real movie star and that movies are better (or at least a lot more fun) than reality.

Prior reviews give a pretty comprehensive list of the movies parodied or referred to—I will add just a few: When the doctor is enumerating Foon Foon’s (Steven Chow) symptoms after his head injury, one of them is pride and the camera cuts to Chow rolling a toothpick in his mouth like Chow Yun-Fat as Mark Gor. References to the egregiously sticky “Ghost” abound, as has been pointed out—one of the best is Chow’s silly hair-do, ala Patrick Swayze, a kind of an artfully mussed pompadour. There is a direct quote from “Days of Being Wild”—when Foon looks at a clock and tells Yuk that they are together at that particular hour, minute and second. There is another quick scene taken directly from another movie—“The Shining”, perhaps?—in which So covers in a corner while Foon Foon drives a chainsaw through the wall next to her. Close-ups of footwork when Foon, So and Foon latest conquest confront each other recall countless similar shots in kung fu movies and there is even a bit of wire work for wuxia fans.

Leslie Cheung could not have been better as So. I don’t know where he was in the process of “coming out” to his fans when this movie was made but he was obviously very comfortable playing a 95% out of the closet gay man. Often it seems that straight actors worried about their audience or gay actors passing for straight overplay the “gayness” of characters in comedies. Leslie Cheung hit it just right here—a spot-on performance.

Two very brief scenes—one of them almost literally gone in the twinkling of an eye—could be on the highlight reels of Stephen Chow and Maggie Cheung. In Chow’s scene he is standing in his bedroom door, trying to get rid of Maggie by thinking of the title of a movie that she should rent and they can recreate—his very slow take, opening his mouth to tell her the movie, then realizing he doesn’t have one in mind, then working his mouth while his mind churns (you can just about see the little wheels turning) to come up with a title—is as superb. Whomever one’s standard is for that kind of excruciating and painstaking scene—Stan Laurel, Keenan Wynne, William Powell—Chow is in their league. The other scene occurs when Foon, So and Rachel Lee, playing a Foon girlfriend, face off. The camera pans from one to the next and pauses a bit longer on Maggie, who, with the slightest curl of her lip, glint in her eye and cocked eyebrow shows that she is aware of everything that Foon has tried to put over on her.

Sandra Ng does a good job of selling her transition from household drudge to hot karaoke hostess, largely through a change in costume, a bit of touch up on her upper lip and the force of her personality. Even though it is obvious what is going to happen with her character it is still fun watching it happen. Raymond Wong walks through his part appropriately since he is there almost entirely to push the plot along and Theresa Mo is not terribly convincing as the mistress turned housewife. Old pros Lee Heung-Kam and Kwan Hoi-San, who must have 200 actor credits between them, so as much as they can with their one note roles—actually it is almost one role with two players.

An enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes.
Reviewer Score: 8