Timing is everything or in the case of So Good..., we work by our own timing! That's why almost two and a half years after the end of the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) crisis, the 1:99 short movie collection is being reviewed. Even though we had a global alert, after Mainland China Hong Kong had the highest death toll (299 reported). 2003 was also the year that came with the loss of mega music- and movie star Leslie Cheung and at the very end of it, the equally iconic Anita Mui lost her battle against cancer. So in the midst of the low's that was at hand during the outbreak, Hong Kong's best and brightest in the entertainment industry decided to encourage its populous by spreading the 11 pieces of 1:99 Shorts across the region, with the revenues going to charitable organizations.
The Panorama dvd was released under the banner "Extended Director's Cut versions" and following the 11 minute long main program, 5 extended versions of the shorts follow (adding approximately 8 minutes). Notes on these are available when applicable as well. The shorts:
Pre-dating Wai Ka-Fai's own tribute to the Hui Brothers, the 2004 Lunar New Comedy Fantasia, in line for a job is Andy Lau in Sam Hui mode singing the theme from The Private Eyes, Sammi Cheng made up as Plain Jane (otherwise essayed by Josephine Siao in movies such as the John Woo directed Plain Jane To The Rescue) and Chapman To as the Ricky Hui character (complete with neck braze) is behind the counter assisting his boss Lau Ching-Wan, who in turn is in the shoes of Michael Hui's familiar characteristics. Lau, who remains the sole component who would carry over to mentioned Wai Ka-Fai movie demonstrates his uncanny skill at imitating Hui, an outstanding inclusion in this fast paced clip that suitably ends with an uplifting on screen text.
The extended version is less frantic, adding on more singing, mahjong, references to Hui Brother's gags of the past and more singing.
Partly shot documentary style, a shoe fit for Fruit Chan (Made In Hong Kong, Dumplings), this self-indulgent exercise, both by our director and pop star duo Shine in front of the camera (both members have appeared in Little Cheung and Hollywood Hong Kong for Chan), is impenetrable, odd, colourful and down to earth at the same time. However the twist concerning the paranoia of the times gives way to some wonderful sights involving the titular pig. End dialogue delivery of the encouraging kind. Sense a pattern?
Detailing just how much the world seems to be against one, sole school boy (Howard Sit - Wait 'Til You're Older), when Eric Idle's "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life" kicks in, Teddy Chen (Purple Storm) goes into pleasant montage mode, telling the felt notion of appreciating the small, bright sides of life.
Abandoning the CGI created world of Hong Kong's famed comic strip Master Q as seen in the 2001 Tsui Hark produced movie (directed by Herman Yau), he goes for traditional animation here in a deserted island adventure. Battling a shark (the English dialogue SHARK transforms into SARS by mainly removing the H and the K), Tsui fires on quirky cylinders that turns the scenario into a computer game even! Although just a blimp at the requisite one minute running time, it's so far the most symbolic gesture put forth via characters dear to the island.
A few more gags and elongating of the rescue scenario represents Tsui Hark's extension to his short.
Somber but with a witty twist, Stephen Chow scores in both an overly obvious and subtle way, implementing the needed message without being grating.
In tacky period wear, Eason Chan and Lydia Shum announces the winner of the Miss Hong Kong pageant, with the winner being expected, a little bit creepy but ultimately in tune with the 1:99 ideas. Ideas that are allowed to be bent by the filmmakers in their own particular way.
From a kids perspective, Hong Kong Pilots is celebration of those high flying ones around you, literally, but first and foremost, your strong-willed family. Representing that admiration is a father (Wong), being a medical worker battling SARS. Lovely scenery, atmosphere and the superb Anthony Wong-warmth makes this one a winner.
Adding over a minute to their Director's Version, Cheung and Law expand a little on the archival footage, brings in the voice-over later and adds more dialogue for the kid. This vision doesn't particularly change much however and is really fine as it is at one minute.
Sending up The Matrix, Dayo Wong's character gets the chance of a lifetime to pick and choose his dream life but decides to stand on his own two feet to help out even in the smallest of ways. Loud visuals, harsh tone but duo directors Chan and Lam checks off the simple thematic goals in dependable fashion.
One of the most interesting of the extended cuts, this one spends more time in Matrix-land, portraying Dayo's character as more tempted by the options presented before eventually making his decision. This characterization gives the viewer very much an option to prefer.
Helmed by author and co-creator of the children's comic that to date has been expanded to feature length format three times, mixing sensibilities both suited for the young and the old. Being largely deep and colourful efforts, some disappointment stems from the fact that most of this short animation is done solely in CGI, even the version of McDull as seen here (Le Petit Pork as he's called and his story is narrated by series regular Jan Lam) Telling a small tale in quick fashion, the time to absorb the visuals, the symbolism and the meaning is way too short but a second viewing using this reviewer's head still doesn't reveal much concrete content. Or maybe it does so the movies really do bear a relation to this small clip. Meaning they can be a handful to treat in your mind but eventually will absorb you. I'm still waiting for that moment in this case however.
Peter Chan's overdoes his black and white short stomped into colour but I'll be damned if the slick frame combined with that literal theme of bringing out the wonderful colours again isn't felt despite. On quite a simplistic level sure but still...
The longest of the shorts as extended, Chan goes for a longer look at despair and transformation but doesn't get much of a better effect. Worth watching for more clearer shots of Alfred Cheung, Sandra Ng and Christopher Doyle though.
The cast & crew of Infernal Affairs (plus the likes of Jacky Cheung) produced this PSA on location, talking about all hardships history has launched at them but that we as a human race can prevail by standing together. Andrew Lau and Alan Mak are in no way wrong to NOT go out on a limb stylistically.
That concludes the shorts but as part of the feature stream, a 44 minute, 26 second documentary follows, focusing on life during SARS, behind the scenes glimpses at the creation of 1:99, filmmakers speaking of the project and their experiences during this time. Opening with Eric Tsang's emotional speech during the 2003 Hong Kong Film Awards, the program mixes its somber and fun aspects well. Heaps of praise towards the medical workers doesn't get old as such (the McDull creators even had pins manufactured) and the program also steers towards that notion of nostalgia and hope. The lighthearted, naked behind the scenes footage aids as well, picking up the serious Stephen Chow at work, Fruit Chan being very energetic as he directs his actors but the gathered crew have most fun reminiscing about Teddy Chen's particular initiative during this time. Very much an extra feature, its inclusion as part of the 1:99 experience is welcome.
(Sam Lee, Tsui Tin-Yau, Wong You-Nam, Lydia Shum, Eason Chan & Teddy Chen)
Although obviously aimed towards their very own, an outside eye looking in on the purpose of this work is not a bad thing to have. Maybe not the most profound thing to have but still, a sincere, slightly naive, feeble view I reckon you'll take. You can't possibly knock 1:99 as it was created to help and while not perhaps reaching all, reaching someone should make it all worth it. You don't gather up this much talent if the small rewards weren't enough. But to boot, there is some fine creativity displayed in the various stylistic attempts here, proving some filmmakers can utilize the short format exceptionally well. Simple templates, sometimes complex, the kudos comes well deserved and the 1:99 initiative turns out to be a worthwhile one.
All shorts were shot in the 1.85:1 format, which Panorama presents on dvd here, with a few variations of the aspect ratio evident. Looking fairly sharp and colourful all throughout, archival and video footage obviously differ a little bit in quality but there's a fine consistency between the 11 films despite. The documentary is 4:3 and looks ok overall.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track often utilizes all the channels to enveloping effect whilst also presenting dialogue in a clear manner.
The English subtitles has no apparent drops in quality concerning the grammar. The documentary suffer a little in that regard though but provides a workable translation despite. Traditional Chinese subtitles are also included. There are no extras but the Chinese language booklet probably does give a hand in identifying cast & crew.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson