I'll Call You (2006)
Directed by: Lam Tze-Chung
Part of Andy Lau's acclaimed "FOCUS: First Cuts" program that is living up to its very admirable goals to give a chance to new and upcoming directors across Asia, from Hong Kong comes I'll Call You, a relationship comedy directed no other than Lam Tze-Chung. Who you ask? You know...the obese fella from Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. Taking with him friends made when working for superstar Stephen Chow, I'll Call You threatens to be so simplistic and old fashioned that you do want to be condescending towards it. Yet it would've been a sufficient experience had it halted at that but through its journey of characters deciding upon love or not, it takes brave turns that sees a new talent emerging on the Hong Kong cinema scene. "FOCUS: First Cuts" works its magic again.
Manny (Alex Fong - 2002) with his beer drinking, devoted friends Lee Sir (Gordon Lam - My Mother Is A Belly Dancer, Election 2) and Hong (Danny Chan - Shaolin Soccer and leader of the Axe Gang in Kung Fu Hustle) curse their poor luck in love. Hong more so than the others, Lee takes a reserved stance and Manny goes into deep depressions easily when love is not played in his favour. Meeting Karen (Viann Liang), a home shopping network host has Manny all excited, even though he's putting up with providing her with cash, her delays and loose behaviour. When taking a stand though, love is lost again...
As the title suggests, we're in a modern day scenario where shallowness is a set in stone notion, where men or women feed of the welfare of others but in reality probably are very lonely characters that are desperate for attention and company. Mostly applicable to Viann Liang's Karen who encounters the very proper but usually pathetic Manny that may be a girl's dream (IF they were looking for last place nice guys) but lacks the pro-active edge to make him a man (when you're trying to compose the perfect email well into the night, you've got issues). Reaching his emotional love high way too soon (a splendid street carnival scene ensues at one point, portraying Manny's mind), he's an impatient guy. Whipped too, if you will. On the sidelines are two loyal friends, Danny Chan's Hong who may be longing but is happy as long as he has the basics and while the same can be applied to Gordon Lam's Lee Sir, he's the wise old man of the group, showcasing a not so strong need for love in his life. Not anymore. Capping his story with a terrific line about love not something associated with the word compromise, I'll Call You reaches quite a philosophical level considering the genre it is placing itself in.
Lam Tze-Chung is a debut director though and he abuses us initially, playing with the DV format extensively via CGI, loud sounds, quirky visuals and you do wonder if it's a cover for lack in storytelling abilities. As it turns out, that's not the case but whatever lessons he takes away from the experience on I'll Call You, let it be that of trying to combine wild behaviour with his quiet passages a bit more gently. That said, the idea of featuring a scoreboard during Manny's first date with Karen, on-screen text messaging, storyboards, animation and even silent movie dialogue cards often blend well into Lam's narrative. He does ultimately show us he's not a one gimmick guy, most impressively in an internal sequence covering Manny's obsession with Karen. All taking place in an illusion where Andy Lau plays both his cell mate Muscle Guy (reprise of the Running On Karma muscle suit that looks worse this time around) and the prison warden 333. The film ALSO ultimately does not carry THAT much weight but seeing as Lam treats his character's issues as issues, the result is more charming and layered than one might expect.
There are lines scattered throughout that corresponds nicely to a reality, not a movie one, and that is one of the joys in I'll Call You. General audiences may feel screwed by the contemplation on Lam and writer's behalf that plays little into the hands of rom/com fantasy land but I'll side with Lam who also squeezes out bearable acts by leads Alex Fong and Viann Liang. Fong has seen (over)exposure in 2006 but inhabiting a rather dorky and weak character in the learning Manny, seems like a fit. Newcomer Viann Liang has trouble making connection overall but being confidently steered by director Lam helps her performance. Great support, mostly on the comedy end of things, comes from Shaolin Soccer goalie Danny Chan (one of the character's pastime is indeed soccer and guess who's the goalie...?) and Gordon Lam. Especially the latter is wonderfully blank and droll but for a neat character purpose in the long run.
Andy Lau realized that you got to let them in, the hungry filmmakers with an affection for cinema (be it minor or grand), not just what makes Hong Kong unique. I'll Call You is not a grand debut but quite a well tuned work in progress that sees Stephen Chow cohort Lam Tze-Chung leap at the chance to make his mark. Dealing in romance of the realistic and character based kind, I'll Call You showcases a harsh- and a loudness that doesn't belong but in the end, it turns out "FOCUS: First Cuts" has found yet another product to proudly showcase.
IVL presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. Shot on Digital Video, the transfer contains the sharpness, detail and colours the film obviously strived for.
Only audio option is a Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track but as I'm not equipped with such a system, my assessment of this disc aspect will be left off this review.
The English subtitles are very coherent with just the odd grammar- and spelling error on occasion. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.
For these "FOCUS: First Cuts" dvd's, the extras packages will probably remain standard, with only a handful devoted to the actual film but as opposed to The Shoe Fairy dvd, the Making Of (19 minutes, 32 seconds) contains imbedded Chinese/English subtitles. A strong program that covers Lam Tze-Chung's intentions with the film, the true life stories behind it, views on men and women (Danny Chan's theory on women will spark debate and laughs), on directing for the first time and Andy Lau's work on the film. We even gets shots of the scoring session, featuring Western Jazz musicians. The trailer for the film follows and 3 shorter versions under the selection I'll Call You Award-Winning Trailers From Competition. Spots that seems to have been culled from the internet. A Photo Gallery (10 images) concludes the I'll Call You specific extras.
FOCUS: First Cuts Showreel touts the project at hand, bombastically, and briefly promotes the films involved while full trailers for The Shoe Fairy, Rain Dog and Love Story are also provided. Visit focusfirstcuts.com for an overview of the project, director's statements and much more.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson