Aug 06, 2012|
(Hong Kong) Comedy. Directed by Pang Ho-cheung. Starring Chapman To, Ronald Cheng, Dada Chan, Kristal Tin, Simon Lui. Category III. 92 minutes. Opens Aug 9.
As if to compensate for the lack of cursing in his last pic “Love in the Buff,” where the toned-down raunchiness was a decision made to court the mainland market, Pang Ho-cheung goes all out with the profanities in his latest Hong Kong-made, Hong Kong-targeted comedy that lives up to its title. Poking fun at the film industry while displaying what is arguably the naughtiest and dirtiest material to be found anywhere in the writer-director’s successful career, “Vulgaria” is a small movie with big balls and bigger laughs.
Chapman To, one of Hong Kong’s finest comedians who starred in Pang’s 2006 award-winning drama “Isabella,” plays the story’s (anti-)hero To Wai-cheung, a second-rate film producer who’s invited to address a room of film students about what his job entails. After comparing his profession to pubic hair—its function being to reduce friction between the financier and the director—To finds himself pushed by disbelieving students to give examples of the actual sacrifices he‘s made for his art. To convince them that producers are the hardest-working people in show business, he begins to vividly recount the financing and making of his latest film.
An array of ridiculous anecdotes is unleashed, starting with To’s meeting with a potential investor, flamboyant mainland mob head Brother Tyrannosaur (Ronald Cheng), who throws To and his buddy Lui (Simon Lui) an epic banquet of exotic—and not all appetizing—dishes. As things spiral out of control, a shitfaced-drunk To is forced to eat stir-fried cow vaginas and agree to make a costume softcore porno featuring the host’s teenage obsession: the now 66-year-old veteran cult actress Susan Shaw. And before the night ends, To might—just might—even have to have intercourse with a mule. Did he do it? The burning mystery becomes a running gag and the central dramatic concern of “Vulgaria.”
Meanwhile, in his personal life, the producer is dealing with the aftermath of his divorce as his lawyer ex-wife (Kristal Tin, To’s real-life partner) threatens to take sole custody of their young daughter, especially when she finds out about his relationship with boobylicious aspiring actress/model Popping Candy (Dada Chan), who owes her stage name to her unique blow-job skills. Things get even worse when some misunderstandings lead To’s flaky assistant Quinn (Fiona Sit) to file a harassment complaint about her boss. Surprise, surprise: plenty of sex-oriented jokes follow. But the show must go on, and so To assembles his stars—Shaw, Popping Candy and Hiro Hayama (the “Sex & Zen 3D“ actor in a game cameo playing himself)—for the sequel of the Hong Kong porn classic, “Confessions of a Concubine.”
The hysterically funny and at times gross screenplay was written by Pang and purposely left incomplete; he then asked the actors to improvise many of the scenarios on set. The film was shot over the course of 12 days with a tiny budget, and is at its core a showbiz satire that wryly riffs on the absurdity of this particular industry. From funding to filming all the way to selling and screening, every part of cinema gets its fair share of mockery, while the struggles of filmmakers are presented with a touch of gentle melancholy reminiscent of “Ed Wood.”
Like many of Pang’s previous comedies, the humor in “Vulgaria” caters to a local audience, who are more likely to get the myriad cultural in-jokes and celebrity cameos. But non-local viewers can still enjoy To’s brilliantly audacious performance as the producer facing desperate times that call for desperate measures. Though, in the end, the film doesn’t achieve any grand ideas, and the rather loose structure makes it look like a series of comic sketches, it is a daring effort that may inspire more pure-blooded local productions and economical but quality filmmaking. As for how much it is a reflection of reality: well, according to Pang and To, some major plot points in the film are fully based on true events. Go figure.
Read Penny Zhou's interview with the director Pang Ho-cheung here.