Six Strong Guys (2004)

Directed by: Barbara Wong
Written by: Teresa Tang
Producer: Lawrence Cheng
Starring: George Lam, Ekin Cheng, Chapman To, Hacken Lee, Andy Hui, Shaun Tam, Candy Lo, Karena Lam, Crystal Huang & Kenneth Tsang

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Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2005
Best Supporting Actress (Candy Lo)
Professional Recommendation Award: Young Director Award (Barbara Wong)

Moving on from angst and insecurity of youth in Truth Or Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat and transferring it to adults instead, Barbara Wong doesn't burst hard onto the scene as much with Six Strong Guys. But with partly a weak and unrealized package also comes enough poignancy put forth or rather familiar, poignant material.

Episodic as it mainly deals with five of the guys (Shaun Tam being the sixth but barely supportive character in actuality) and their particular issues STILL at the forefront after four of them planned but never went through with a group suicide, Ekin Cheng's Long is a devoted office worker with little cojones to tell his boss Rico (George Lam) what's really on his mind. Rico himself is dominated by his father (Kenneth Tsang) and carries that performance-issue strongly in him. As for the actual other friends of Long's, Piggy Chai (Chapman To) feels lowly as he's an out of work writer while his Mainland wife Beeboo (Crystal Huang) is plowing her career path. Further detachment between the two happens as Chai reacquaints himself with childhood love Ding Ding (Karena Lam), who heads a troubled bakery and Chai senses trouble in her as well. Malcolm (Andy Hui) is the playboy with an erection problem, leading to ribbing from friends and online but when it leans towards one of his past sex partners now being pregnant or having had a baby, focus is shifted. Finally,there's the weakest of the bunch of guys: hairdresser Ben (Hacken Lee) who's been with the world's most supportive girlfriend (Candy Lo) for the past 8 years but hasn't got the nerve to tell her he's not attracted truly. His desired life path is of the player-kind, making him the asshole of the group...

Intensely spoken voice over and a quick setup of the aborted group suicide seems to equal a shaky start for Barbara Wong but it all of course also echoes the fact that surely some of or most of the guys have jumped the gun too soon. Is life that awful that you can't stop for a few beats to truly see what's wrong and perhaps do a fix-up of things? It's stress and hellish life according to themselves and clearly, being faced with such intense inner emotions is a new experience for some of these. But in the end it is back into the frey for all of them and director Wong starts revealing her true intentions soon enough.

Little mood swings resides in the film thankfully as the most wacky stuff feels more like natural banter that would take place within friends. Basically not going surreal places with real characters and concerns. The exaggerated voice over's may tell a different story and makes the film stumble in terms of the reality-issue but not to the point where the the actual final tally overall does. As Wong gets some raunchy scenes out of the way and has us jumping between the guys, part of the film grows in a fine way on you. Other parts are unrealized, lacking restraint, viewer sympathy and engagement.

Six Strong Guys therefore jumps and nudges greatness and plummets heavily at points too, making it claim a middle ground easily. We're for instance genuinely surprised that the Ekin Cheng/George Lam storyline grows on us as much as it does. As Cheng's Long overcomes his particular problem, he acts as inspiration for Lam's Rico to solve his and combined with some rare animated behaviour from the duo, it becomes a pleasant mini-movie within the movie. Chapman To also finds time to go darker, human places with his character of Chai. Being the lowly, depressed husband that carries with him feelings of guilt and rage. Barbara Wong has To and Karena Lam bringing natural chemistry with the underlying message clearly being that they need each other to be set on their respective paths in life. Capping it with a way too overplayed melodramatic scene, this is an example of the baffling plummet Wong allows the film to take at points.

With parts of Andy Hui's very familiar storyline of a player starting to play the adult game being totally unresolved and illogical, her biggest chance comes in the narrative concerning Hacken Lee's Ben as here is a chickensh*t character who's prone to only communicate internally and really treats his girlfriend like a piece of cardboard. There's narrative structure to be expected out of such a character dynamic but Wong takes Ben to way too wild places in terms of unsympathy. Braindeath in the character really and she never rebounds with the conclusion of his journey. But ultimately walking the middle ground overall with Six Strong Guys, the weaknesses inherited within her characters makes for interesting, straight exploration and when in good-mode, she rarely takes dips into fake territory. In fact, we're caught off-guard by the seriousness of it all and we realize the unexpected casting choices having been made as well. Kudos for a conflicted product therefore.

The DVD:

Mei Ah presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. The print is clean and scores high in colours- and sharpness department.

Audio options are Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1, Cantonese DTS 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 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 free from obvious grammar- and spelling errors. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. A small extras package arrives too, starting with a 6 minute, 41 second Making Of (forced Chinese subtitles only and following the traditional program-format), followed by the trailer and Mei Ah's as always useless Databank (containing a sparse cast & crew listing and English/Chinese plot synopsis from the back of the dvd).

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson