Trivial Matters (2007)
Written & directed by: Edmond Pang
Nominations at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 2008:
Somewhere in what so much look like a joke, a quickie and further proof of Edmond Pang's efficiency, poignancy reigns supreme on paper as your English title totally rings true looking at the seven short stories presented in Trivial Matters (previously published in text form by Pang himself). The quote from the synopsis "...these trivial matters that make us laugh or cry are constantly interrupting us" is not philosophy unheard of before but Pang can quite wonderfully catch us off guard with his thoughts, be it uncomfortable open, sad or funny ones. It's always something different in his statement vs his execution and breaking the vignettes down one by one, where in my sentence above does Trivial Matters land? Or is it all a show reel of sorts, with Pang asking himself and us the quite important question: What can I do and what have I learnt?
Actually, the above is pretty much hogwash because as you open up the special features section on the dvd and jump to the Director's Statement, the appearance of Pang's 7th film (in his 7th year as a director) stems from the fact that he sees troubles in his beloved, local cinema but that Youtube has seen a generation of movie watchers adopt nicely to the drastic change in tones and moods presented before them (good Hong Kong cinema fans then). As a fan of short story anthologies as well, the short stories that may or may not make up a thematic, significant or valuable whole (all by design) to Trivial Matters are:
Playing out in front of a video camera and in a bedroom, Jan Lam interviews his psychology professor (Chan Fai-Hung) in an up front manner about the dissatisfactory sex life with his wife (Crystal Tin). Roles are turned as Lam probes the quote unquote worldly professor and this at times amusing episode also cuts to the actual sex act, mostly embodied by some younger, prettier specimens for fantasy purposes of Lam's character. Hitting upon points of lack of communication in couples, the odd thoughts and decisions of the male that either stems from inexperience or that the wires aren't properly connected, the short length doesn't make for much of an effect other than we getting a chuckle, Pang simplifying his format and overdoing the sex to the point where it turns as ordinary as it is, for better or worse. I guess it all has its points then.
In this very short bit set at a club and acted out entirely in English, Edison Chen's bad boi tries to chat up a girl played by Stephanie Cheng by telling her of his contribution as a model citizen of society. Chat-up lines have never been this uncomfortable as Chen describes he pisses on poo stains in public toilets to ease the work of the cleaners. Comparing himself to Spider-Man, we (and her) warm up to his reasoning and as far out as it sounds, I'm willing to bet Edmond Pang have some deep feeling for the more looked upon jobs of our society. Since he is also sinking to the low's of featuring poo, he might as well go to the lengths of showing Chen's stream in action on it. And he does, we laugh but the scariest part is that Edison's "well-versed" street talk might not be him sending up his image... But it all will be lodged in your memory.
It's A Festival Today
And while we're sort of in the nether regions, Eason Chan breaks the frame to talk to us about his relationship. Newly moved in with his girlfriend Wai Ying (Isabel Chan), she doesn't believe in pre-marital sex, leading to frustration of the grave kind. A plan is hatched between him and friend (Chapman To) to ask her for at least a blow job to relieve preassure. It's a natural need and playing into this is trust, fear and natural need leading to male stupidity. Because as bad as the first session of head goes on Christmas Eve, the holidays prove to be the time for it so Chan's character goes to work to find any holiday out there (including Japanese Hoover Day and Thai Splashing Day). You're never quite sure if Pang is toying with us to believe he's thinking deeply once more of relationships and communication. Or is he just having fun for the sake of it or is it a bit of both? You won't be made to look like a fool because you will have a riotous time created by the low-brow wit done to perfection in music, editing and performing.
Designed as an information film from The Education Ministry Of The Tak Nga Star made in 4517 AD, in silent movie style the narrator explains the origin of the naming of their planet. The future discoveries of planets became a naming rights issue that would trickle down from NASA to the Hong Kong magazine Easy Finder and via it Kenny Kwan plans to woo her his high school sweetheart by having a star named after her. Amusement exists, even if only to Pang, but the not so subtle jab in the cartoon part of the short, talking of USA messing about with other countries but being kind to hand out planet naming rights, is fun for the millisecond it appears and the stylized affair is over soon enough.
Ah Wai The Big Head
The trivial matters turn a bit more epic, complex and the gear-switching is there to showcase some versatility too. No feces- or fellatio jokes here but instead the story of a rather uneasy friendship between Ah Wai (Gillian Chung) and Kate (Stephy Tang). Getting together to join a singing contest and via a love for singer Danny Chan, Kate speaks in rather rampant voice over that she doesn't quite like the friendship with Ah Wai. She perceives her as rather naive but after she manages to get her off her back by encouraging her to go with garage worker Eagle (Juno Mak), Ah Wai or rather both are thrust into life and it's not a magic carpet ride for these school girls. Pregnancy, the strength you gain from idol-worshipping and the notion of sometime, some day appreciating the friendships you've got, the piece isn't overly complex but painted in an affecting fashion within the short format. Gillian and Stephy complement each other nicely, with the former being very outward and the latter wearing it all on the inside. Even more so as the character goes into her adult years and indeed the question is, who is more naive?
Taking us behind the screen as Chapman To and Eason Chan as themselves discuss the madness of the short It's A Festival Today, To departs to engage in his structured activity of whoring but this time something happens. Something is on his mind and/or something turns out to enter his mind. A connection with the Mainland prostitute (Zhang Zheng) reveals a lot about loneliness and even though this is fiction blending with a supposed reality (Eric Tsang and Jordan Chan are referenced as part of the plot) in addition to possibly be a riot of a joke between friends Pang and To, the mood is captivating. If anything it's more simple Isabella-tactics used here by Pang and its ambiguous nature in combination with Peter Kam's score is heartfelt. Even if the filmmakers are in fact snickering over your shoulder.
As Mainland director Feng Xiaogang enters the frame in a professional manner, we're fooled into believing this is some musing on the entertainment business but as it turns out, this short is set in the well-oiled machinery of the assassination business. Not so much well-oiled within the bonus killing-scheme though as there works the junior assassins. One such is Shawn Yue who is waiting for his target at a bowling alley but he is quite an easily distracted hitman. Ending Trivial Matters on a wild and wacky note, this story connects back to Pang's debut days in You Shoot, I Shoot and could easily be material for a non-related sequel. Shawn Yue is a riot as he acts out unconvincingly what he's been taught but drugs and relationships gets in the way of being a professional. Damn kids...
And it's really a big eff you to all that is sane, is supposed to be clean and wholesome as Edmond Pang really fills his Category IIb rated flick with nudity and drug use. Basically allowing censors to grab hold of him but at the same time protesting against the restrictions Mainland co-operation has. Is it naive to be this vocal, low and nasty? Perhaps but the format Trivial Matters takes on, the minor things it says throughout the 7 stories and its moods makes for an easily digestible fun time that doesn't further Edmond Pang one bit. It really does showcase what is there and confirms the confidence that continues to lead to development. When he stops to do this project as an aside, coming from him, it's really hard to dislike and really easy to admire the arsenal he's gathered so far.
Kam & Ronson presents the film in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The damage free transfer is suitably sharp and fairly detailed.
Audio options are Cantonese (with Mandarin and English passages) 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 do feature some errors but are fully coherent all throughout. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also available.
A few extras appear but only the splendid Director's Statement and the trailer gets an English translation. The Making Of (5 minutes, 14 seconds) is your standard piece while Short Film: All Trivial Matters From Trivial Matters (10 minutes, 13 seconds) sees Edmond Pang, Chapman To and cast do little to nothing but perhaps there would've been some humour to this with a translation provided.
Talk To Producer is divided into 4 subjects: "About Director" (3 minutes, 33 seconds), "About Hk Film Industry" (3 minutes, 59 seconds), "About Misunderstanding" (6 minutes, 34 seconds), "About Trivial Matters" (25 minutes, 25 seconds) and consists of cast & crew interviews by (and sometimes with) co-producer Chapman To. Stills & Posters (11 images) finishes matters off in an unexciting manner.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson