Driving Miss Wealthy (2004)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2008-08-25
We start promisingly enough with old pro Hui Siu-Hung doing his exasperated best to set things up. Lau Ching-Wan as Mario was his assistant and but is now reduced to cadging employment from his old boss as a member of a police line-up. He is sent to an interview for a position as bodyguard for a reclusive billionaire. The other applicants (including an Iraqi war veteran still in combat fatigues and a pretty boy in a lavender sweater with pushed up sleeves) are eliminated but a quick check of Mario's background finds that he isn't qualified for much of anything. Since the billionaire's daughter needs a driver who must be Filipino and speak bad Cantonese, Mario's complete failure in imitating an Indian and a Thai national--who happens to be a boxing champion--means he is perfect for the job. He immediately switches from what one assumes is perfect Cantonese to a strange sounding pidgin language, apparently a broad caricature of the way a Filipino would speak. It was like watching Denzel Washington become Stepin Fetchit.

So "Driving Miss Wealthy" is a comedy whose humor is based on an immigrant domestic servant trying to speak the local language. The extent of the ineptitude of the filmmakers is shown in scene immediately after Mario and his employer, Miss Feng, have come from a beauty shop. She is sporting what could only be called a Chinese Afro--think of Agnela Y. Davis, the U. S. radical, circa 1971--and he has acquired a set of long beaded braids that are probably supposed to be dreadlocks to make him look like a Rastafarian.

Ethnic comedy is tricky but it can be done. A group making fun of itself can be hilarious: Robert Townsend's "Hollywood Shuffle", an acerbic look at African-American culture which is also an excellent send-up of the movie business works on many levels; John Cleese was at his comedic best when showing the world his view of uptight Englishmen; "Divorce, Italian Style" goes way over the top in depicting Sicilian machismo and Italian bureaucracy. Making fun of a racial or ethnic group other than one's own can be a bit of a minefield. Even viewing "Driving Miss Wealthy" from outside of its cultural and linguistic world it seems at best lame and at worst dreadful. Not as bad as, for example, the way New Guinean people are shown as not quite as smart as gorillas in "Bruce Li in New Guinea" but in the same universe.

Much could be forgiven if this was a real romantic comedy in which opposites attracted, lessons were learned and true love blossomed in fallow ground. A few sparks fly between the stars. Gigi Leung has a few scenes in which her confused/frantic/semi-demented character comes through and Lau Ching-Wan seems incapable of giving a bad performance even with such threadbare and shopworn material. The poor little rich girl learns the meaning of true friendship while living in the slums and turning rats into pets but ultimately this movie is a waste of time. There are some funny outtakes/bloopers that run under the final credits that are worth watching.