My favourite Tsui Hark comedy. For any other HK filmmaker, it would my favourite outright, but Tsui sets the bar so much higher.
Reviewer Score: 8
On paper, this film should have fallen flat. (For an entirely different take on this, see Brian's review on Links). A bunch of glamorous Japanese actors thrown in with a weird bunch of gwailos pretending to be wacked-out Americans and Russians together with a regular bunch of locals. Unusually for a HK film, both Japanese and English are spoken in large quantities. The first 12 minutes is entirely in Japanese, and at least four of the non-gwailo actors compete for who can do the most damage to the English language. The actress who plays Takako's managress wins (heavy accent, just out of reach of intelligibility were it not for the subs) narrowly in front of Joey Wong (only just intelligible). Best linguistics easily go to Kenny Bee, whose English is quite good and (according to my missus) so is his Japanese (he sings two lines at the end). Characters burst into song for no apparent reason (Kenny, Waise and Michael sing Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen, mostly in English) and allusions to music are everywhere (again, I think this works very well).
And what a bunch of characters ! Kenny Bee playing an incompetent newsreader, Joey Wong playing a gun-toting police inspector (!), Waise Lee (specialist in straight-faced tough guys) playing it for laughs, and the great Michael Chan hamming it up and previewing his role in Master Q 2001 (though on the other side of the law).
I don't think anyone else but Tsui Hark could have pulled this one off. The balance between screwball farce, romance, pathos and action is just right, and it only occasionally falls flat. This film contains my very favourite comedy scene of any HK film. Again, it doesn't look funny on paper, but I defy any film fan to not laugh out loud at the sight of Kenny Bee running so late to read the news that he has to sit behind the desk properly dressed above the waist only, then reading a live cross about an apartment on fire, with it gradually dawning on him that it is HIS apartment. Of course, he jumps up and gets excited, forgetting he has only shorts on, and charges out of the studio.
Some comments on Brian's review on Links. Brian and I have frequent discussions about HK film, and we can be relied upon to disagree on almost everything. Brian lists the same scenes as highlights as I would, but adds them up to be unsatisfactory, where as they blast me as a wonderful film experience. Not a classic, perhaps not even great, but nevertheless highly enjoyable.
Comparisons with two other films come to mind. Kenny appeared in another Tsui Hark comedy in which music featured prominently - Shanghai Blues.
I had heard big wraps about SB, and was all the more disappointed when I saw it. For my money, it mostly falls very flat, and the both the comedy and the romance are too forced. I would even go so far as to describe SB as a first draft, and Spy Games as the greatly-improved second try. In summary, if you read Brian's and my reviews of both SB and SG, what I say about SG is what Brian thinks of SB, and what I think of SB is what Brian thinks of SG !
Kenny also appeared with Joey Wong and Michael Chan in the great (non-comedy) My Heart Is That Eternal Rose. Though not as good, I would seriously put SG into the same class as MHITER.
Lastly, about Joey. She is a big part of the reason I became a HK movie fan, being the centrepiece of the great Chinese Ghost Story series. I will and have watched her in practically anything. Disappointment that she takes 40 minutes to appear ? Of course, but not unexpected. Joey, similarly to Amy Yip, appeared in many films where she played small parts compared with how high she was billed. True Joey fans make the most of whatever appearances she made. Having said that, I think her part in SG is about right. And, to make me totally happy, she is given the glamour treatment (a select few of her films did not), so who am I to complain.
I recommend this film without reservation to anyone who loves film, and would further recommend it to someone who was not familiar with HK as a reason to get into them more.