My Name Is Fame (2006)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-12-25
Some movies succeed if the audience likes the characters while others—those involving car chases, slaughtered teenagers, gratuitous nudity or talking animals, for example—don’t. “My Name is Fame” falls into the first category and it would take an extremely hard heart not to love Poon Kar Fai and Faye Ng, its principal characters. Talented old pro Lau Ching-Wan plays a talented if underemployed character actor while attractive and energetic newcomer Fok Sze-Yin plays a tireless ingénue, happy to throw herself onto a tile floor for twenty straight takes if the director wants her to. It is a soft edged and romanticized look at the Hong Kong movie business, the kind of movie that those in the industry love since it skips all the heartbreak, ambition, jealousy, bad taste and cutthroat business practices that are part of the business everywhere.

No one is really unhappy or even particularly challenged by life. Wai is Fai’s old friend from acting school who gave up show business after eight years to open a car repair shop. He isn’t bitter toward those who have been successful—one of his customers is Tony Leung Ka-Fai who treats Wai as a fellow professional and who has words of encouragement and advice for Fai. Fai himself, while an artist whose need for perfection doesn’t work in the movie and television world of Hong Kong, isn’t the kind of truly annoying and ridiculous actor portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie” or conniving seducer like Terence Stamp in “My Wife is an Actress”. He doesn’t alienate those who have the power to employ him—he is obviously well liked by everyone on the sets where he is shown working but since he is one of hundreds of actors who are capable and available for supporting roles he is called less and less.

At times Fai is as grandiloquent and full of portentous advice as Polonius in “Hamlet” (To thy own self be true and all that). He is easy to forgive, though because we have already seen him break every one of he rules he lays down for Faye: don’t argue with the director, don’t improvise on the set, stay in character whenever you are in costume are just a few that he obviously doesn’t follow himself. Unlike Polonius he really means what he says and knows it works even if it is beyond him.

Faye has a smooth path from recent immigrant with bad Cantonese to international movie queen. No evil executives invite her to audition on the casting couch; she is surrounded by supportive artists and technicians and she is able to survive in a very expensive city without a day job. The toughest that things get for her is when two other bit players in a scene laugh at her when she continues to blow a hooker’s pick-up line. On an actual movie set, of course, she would have been replaced right away. This sequence is important, though, because it brings to the fore what “My Name is Fame” is really concerned with: film acting. Faye begins the scene as a bumbling amateur who can neither hit her mark nor say her line. During a break Fai coaches her to bring back the sense memory and emotional recall he has taught her so that she returns to the set and nails the scene as well as any actress in the world could.

The still gorgeous Candace Yu On-On has an important role as Fai’s former wife. She is a talent agent who runs her operation out of her home and has enough connections to get small roles for the many aspiring actresses who hang around her living room. She meets Fai for a drink, puts up with his drunken oafishness and takes him home to bed. There is still a strong bond—respect and friendship if not love—between the two. Yu brings just the right amount of acceptance, rueful sexiness and middle-aged practicality to the character.

While we expect movies to be “real”—to mirror or mimic reality enough so that we can identify with the characters and situations—we don’t want them to be too real and “My Name is Fame” does this very well. We know the movie business—or any business—isn’t like it is portrayed here but we want to believe and have been conditioned to accept that talent and hard work are enough to get to the top. Both Fai and Faye are people it is easy to root for—we want them to succeed and to do so through their own efforts. Their friends and family are decent, likeable people who we would like as our friends and (possibly) family. Their coworkers are diligent, interested only in making sure the director’s vision gets on the screen. It is a fairyland with no more relationship with day to day reality than any movie, fun to watch and very entertaining.

Reviewer Score: 7