Hollywood Hong Kong (2001)
& directed by: Fruit Chan
at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2003:
After completing his "1997 trilogy" (Made In Hong Kong, The Longest Summer and Little Cheung), featuring themes regarding the handover of Hong Kong from Great Britain to the Republic of China, internationally acclaimed writer/director Fruit Chan began exploring prostitution in a new series of films that started with Durian Durian (as of yet, Chan hasn't made this a trilogy). It continues here in Hollywood Hong Kong. A director leaning towards arthouse, for this reviewer, those kind of works can become really hard to interpret so if I don't get any of this, doesn't mean YOU won't.
Chu (Glen Chin) and his, literally, large family (Ho Sai Man and Leung Sze Ping) runs a Pork Roast business in Tai Nom. A shantytown overshadowed by a large apartment complex called Hollywood Plaza, buildings of much higher living standards than theirs. Wong Chi Keung (Wong You Nam from Just One Look) is a youngster living in the same town and his meeting with a Mainland prostitute called Tong Tong (Zhou Xun from The Emperor And The Assassin) will have great impact on his life and that of the Chu's...
Director Fruit Chan is quick to establish the fact that the people inhabiting Hollywood Hong Kong are not your usual stock characters. The family of Chu, literally pigs living among pigs go through the motions of their Roast Pork business with the Hollywood Plaza overlooking their lives. Immediate questions that pop up, especially since I went into the film without any prior knowledge of the plot; is this a study of people stuck in familiar tracks with deep depression underneath? Truth be told, underneath it all, it really is that in the beginning stages of the film. The large family of Chu are probably content what they have though but a little sunshine wouldn't hurt. Chan is doing something quite smart here by teasing the audience to think that Chu's are in awe of the towering Hollywood Plaza but really what it is here is an unavoidable presence, not a symbolic reference to what the characters actually want.
What they want, perhaps, comes in the form of prostitute Tong Tong, probably the nicest and most easy going character in cinema for a long time. She immediately strikes a chord with the Chu's and Wong Chi Keung who hires her services. Her hanging around brings out smiles in characters that does suggest that there's previously been an outspoken dissatisfaction with their low-quality way of life but what it doesn't suggest or tell, and what is ultimately the mystery of the film, is Tong Tong's real reasons for being THIS friendly. This setup is quite captivating and amongst the excellent design work (I'd be surprised if they constructed this village though) and Chan's clear storytelling makes Hollywood Hong Kong definitely worth following through.
A preconceived notion of mine regarding this kind of filmmaking is that it has relentless assault of symbolism and shots that makes sense for the director only. Chan is restrained in that regard and while you can argue that there's some self-indulgent shots here, the majority of his stylistic choices does serve the story as well as communicating well with the audience. You have the swing set sequence that is repeated in a section of the film, showing the fat family respectively breaking into a smile because of this mainland girl. It doesn't exactly borderline on pretentious and Chan again teases us to believe that Hollywood is the wanted goal for the village characters, by using the five towers as a key image. A quite sweet tone is injected via the score also and I was all in all quite surprised by Chan's vision of Hollywood Hong Kong. However, we know that something's rotten in Denmark and Tong Tong's friendliness towards the elder son raises a lot of questions regarding the remainder of the film. Most importantly, it makes us interested to follow through but boy, try and predict what's coming...
Tong Tong exits the picture and in comes the plot point regarding the real intentions behind her presence. To lose her is kind of sad because Zhou Xun obviously is eye candy so Chan has the challenge of making the audiences switch focus. What does he do? Successfully brings in very black humour into the piece. Characters gets punished in macabre ways and there's imagery here that will have one or two of you be uncomfortable. It's really so outrageous and hilarious that it shouldn't really fit with the prior, sweeter mood set by Chan. However, it somehow does. To emphasize the black humour, the definite highlight lies in using the same light score against dark comedy scenes and slowly we get to a resolution that is perhaps the hardest one to figure out, at least by this viewer. In my head such end messages such as the cruelty of man, how good turns to bad and good again, white to black are possible thoughts by Fruit Chan to have audiences walk away with. In any case, whatever is true, and my guesses are probably far from correct, Hollywood Hong Kong is a very compelling piece of accessible drama cinema film with touches not many Hong Kong films nowadays take the time to inject. Chan's stylistic symbolism isn't hard to interpret if you're decided to make friends with this film. However viewers looking for a time waster should look elsewhere.
With Made In Hong Kong, Fruit Chan gave Hong Kong cinema Sam Lee and he's continued his tradition of featuring lesser known names and even first time actors. With his troupe of actors in Hollywood Hong Kong he gets very natural, fitting performances that are believable in this kind of setting. The immediate standouts are Zhou Xun and little Leung Sze Ping, the two characters that form an unexpected real bond in the film. She skillfully balances a genuine friendliness towards strangers with a strong sense of sexuality because of her profession while Leung plays a kid, like he is and therefore pretty much nails the role. Kids or actors may be natural talents but it takes a director of belief behind them and much kudos undoubtedly goes to director Fruit Chan who really wanted these faces to occupy his created world.
Fruit Chan received many accolades for the film but setting that aside, it's a good piece of Hong Kong cinema for a crowd in the mood for something different. I was going in thinking to come out of the film with a big questionmark over my head but found it surprisingly understandable and the twists it takes do blend well into the unconventional setting Hollywood Hong Kong has. Regardless of what Fruit Chan movie you start with or have seen prior , his 2001 effort is a strong entry in his filmography.
Asia Video Publishing has done a good job on this 1.85:1 transfer. It's spotless and relatively sharp overall. The redness present I do believe is intentional. Anamorphic enhancement would be preferable but for the price, this transfer I have no problem with.
I would think the Cantonese track was original mixed in Dolby Digital 5.1 but we only get a 2.0 option on the dvd. Nevertheless, the track in particular has great ambiance and clear dialogue. Purists will moan about the lack of 5.1 but as far as 2.0 tracks go, this is splendid.
The English subtitles feature a few sloppy errors and it can't sometimes decide what it wants to call the town the movie is set in. Other than that, high quality translation which is good since Hollywood Hong Kong did tour international festivals. Traditional Chinese subtitles are also included.
A few video extras appear, starting with the making of (12 minutes 36 seconds). A video diary would be the correct description of this since we see much raw footage of location scouting, pre-production casting meetings, Fruit Chan going out to find the right pig etc. Some of these scenes are also narrated by Chan but since we get no subtitles, this program is moderately enjoyable at best.
Interview (7 minutes 15 seconds) features small sessions with director Fruit Chan, actors Zhou Xun, Wong You Nam and Ho Sai Man. The question cards within the program are in English but again, no subtitles for the answers.
Movie Scenes (7 minutes and 40 seconds) is a compilation of various scenes in the film presented in full frame and with burned in subtitles. A highlight reel if you will and not really worth watching once even. Finally, the excellent theatrical trailer for Hollywood Hong Kong appear. One funny note about that, the Chu family is referred to as Big, medium and small fatty in the trailer instead of the actors playing them respectively.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson