AV (2005)

Directed by: Edmond Pang
Written by: Edmond Pang & Wenders Li
Producer: Catherine Hun
Starring: Wong You-Nam, Lawrence Chou, Derek Tsang, Tsui Tin-Yau, Jeffrey Chou, Eric Kot, Jim Chin & Amamuya Manami

Buy the DVD at:
HK Flix.com

For Edmond Pang's latest, his 4th feature (following a string of acclaimed works including Men Suddenly In Black and Beyond Our Ken), he clearly isn't going lazy with his casting despite the second career as pop stars that most of these kids have in addition to "acting" in "movies". While yet not the Derek Yee of his generation in terms of tapping into previously untested acting veins, Pang is obviously having an instinct of the correct character for the correct character in AV. Who better to play youths than youths and with a little dedication from a, in this case, co-writer/director, the results can be immersing for at least one movie. One thing is certain however, the likes of Wong You-Nam and Lawrence Chou will have to stay long in Hong Kong cinema if they want to make a difference amongst the actual actors. Also, with AV (short for adult video) Pang is also back amongst the world of porn. Hear that kids? Porn!

Aspiring film director Kar-Lok (Tsui Tin-Yau of pop group Shine) gets expelled from university after utilizing a female student in a fake movie shoot, just to get a chance to make out with her. Buddies Leung (Lawrence Chou - Truth Or Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat, The Eye), Band Aid (Derek Tsang, son of Eric Tsang), Fatty (Jeffrey Chou) and Jason (Wong You-Nam, the other half of Shine) sees his work and decides to pull of a similar scheme where they invite an adult video star (real life AV actress Amamuya Manami) onto a fake movie set. Just so they all can have sex with her...

Coming back to the porn aspect, Edmond Pang first introduced a similar plot in his debut You Shoot, I Shoot and has continued to feature themes surrounding sex, both in a comedic and highly serious ways since. Never exploitive as such before, AV is a prime opportunity to actually go down that route (with a given Category III rating looming). Well for one, this movie ended up rated Cat IIb and secondly, Wong Jing didn't write or direct it. In his hands, it would've been a Wong Jing quickie but AV is an Edmond Pang quickie. Meaning, a short shooting schedule but I would like to say that Pang succeeds once more in giving us entertaining and in "only" a slight way this time, thoughtful Hong Kong cinema, while still walking his own path completely as a filmmaker.

Employing yet again the looser style as seen in Beyond Our Ken, leaning towards a documentary feel, it's either due to tight scheduling, a style that Pang feels fit or it's actually both. Neither choice detracts as it's not an MTV video throughout, just clean looking cinematography by newcomer Lam Chi Kin that just happens to move about a little bit more freely. We're not talking The Blair Witch Project here so don't worry! While then AV in the end holds serious thought, Pang sets out to make a teenage screwball comedy first, very much in the vein of American Pie and by god, he does succeed, despite the expected Viagra jokes and various crudeness along the way.

You've got much loud, broad comedy but initially some welcome sly one as Pang deconstruct nicely the notion of perfect sex like in the porn movies and brings up, out of all things from the player Band Aid's perspective, the hygienic aspect of sex. It's quickly de-romantisized even though these youths clearly are one-track minded. They're also very much a unit of buddies that are prone to be jackasses towards each other and generally act juvenile for their own amusement, the whole basis for the plot really. Pang keeps a throughline to the comedy pretty much 90% of the time, injecting clever to crude dialogue but his direction of his pop star "actors" is strong. An essential here is to get timing, delivery and chemistry correct and several such deliveries are hilarious coming from this largely untested group of performers.

Pang doesn't set out to turn AV into a Cat III exploitation film either despite going for it most of the time with broad, foul-mouthed moments coming from Jim Chin, the rousing speech given by Lawrence Chou to his fellow horny students (the style seen in this scene brings back fond memories of Men Suddenly In Black), nudity and the mentioned Viagra joke that despite its predictability is a tour de force of low-brow humour. So all this works but AV features a serious thematic also as per all other movies that Pang has directed. That fares less well this time around.

This time, youth disillusionment plays a huge part and while slightly out of left field coming from these politically incorrect characters, Pang manages to state serious points through dialogue exchanges, detailing the fact that their kind of happiness doesn't apply to this world and that they feel ashamed as a generation when looking back at the initiative prior fellow students has taken. This becomes an area of the film where Pang's material in writing doesn't necessarily stumble but it doesn't resonate as greatly within this package as he clearly wants. Here's where the untrained performers aren't fully up to snuff and secondly, the romance where Wong You-Nam's Jason gets involved with Amamuya Manami does feature some awfully stale acting on both performers behalf.

Yet, it's very much well-meaning and Edmond Pang leaves the audiences with something to think about after pretty much laughing, in a good way, throughout. AV does not further Pang like Beyond Our Ken did but more importantly, he continues to log works filled with effort, love for movies and confidence is clearly sprinkled all over this production. Don't let the pop star cast bother you as they're more than up to the task of providing laughter and entertainment, even though they're not showcasing range as such. Hong Kong cinema dead? Box-office wise, it's a fight but several profiles are still rolling on, including this new kid Edmond Pang.

The DVD:

Mei Ah presents the film in an anamorphically enhanced 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Print has little defects while it also appears sharp and detailed throughout.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track (with English and Japanese dialogue mixed in) uses the front stage to good effect for whenever the score kicks in. Dialogue also sounds clear. Cantonese DTS 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are also included.

The English subtitles does come with a few slight errors but on the whole are of high quality. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also available.

Mei Ah have provided a decent roster of extras for AV, spread over 2 discs. Before the feature, you're first greeted to a skippable trailer for Colour Of The Loyalty. Moving on, we find with the trademark Edmond Pang Director's Statement (2 pages, viewable in Chinese and English). Pang mentions he originally wanted a break from filmmaking but a quote from Mainland Chinese director Chen Kaige's autobiography caught his eye and off he went making a politically incorrect piece that he's sure "Chen Kaige will not enjoy".

Next is the making of AV (11 minutes, 55 seconds). Featuring burned in English and Chinese subtitles, the piece is introduced as AVNEWS and hosted by Nashinoki Kyoto, another Japanese porn star (real or fake?) that plays the role of documentarian of Amamuya Manami's experiences shooting AV in Hong Kong. The cheery voice of our host is dubbed over by an equally cheery Cantonese voice and this largely off-beat show is an oddity amongst Hong Kong behind the scenes featurettes. Clearly adopting a faux documentary style, the Japanese crew catches the Hong kong crew at their worst; being lazy, badmouthing each other and generally acting sleazy, the latter being true for the portrayal of director Pang. And as a turnaround at the end, they all get praise and we realize we've learnt nothing at all. Just like most of these programs then. Funny stuff.

(Edmond Pang enjoying the lighter side of shooting while later hard at work again)

Secret Message (not mAssage as the dvd cover proclaims) Of Amamuya Manami (3 minutes, 35 seconds) sees her laying down her voice over work for the film and then delivering a final goodbye, talking about her experience making AV and working with Edmond Pang. This is all just general praise and Amamuya is more than just a little annoying when this giddy. Burned in English and Chinese subtitles accompany this program as well.

Theatrical Trailer & TV Spot contains the subtitled cinema trailer while the TV/DVD promo spot only has burned in Chinese subtitles. Outtakes and brief behind the scenes footage can be seen in the latter including clips from the video commentary session (more on that below). The animated Photo Gallery (running 2 minutes, 12 seconds with 28 images) mixes regular movie stills with a few behind the scenes photos. Nothing too exciting.

Outside of the plot synopsis from the back cover, the Databank actually holds some info this time around, namely short cast bios for Tsui Tin-Yau, Lawrence Chou, Derek Tsang, Wong You-Nam and Jeffrey Chou. In Chinese only though.

(Edmond Pang and cast assembled for the video commentary)

Moving on to the 2nd platter, we find the most notable extra in the form of a video commentary with co-writer/director Edmond Pang, actors Wong You-Nam, Lawrence Chou, Derek Tsang, Jeffrey Chou and Tsui Tin-Yau. Optional subtitles in English, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese are available thankfully since all participants expectedly speaks Cantonese. Pang sets the tone immediately by asking why the members of Shine sit on opposite sides of the room and the rest of the track continues on in this light manner. Group commentaries rarely become great as they generate into flimsiness and people talking over each other. No different here and it's obvious the participants have not prepared. Having said that, the track covers some informative ground such as the real life character that inspired Tsui's Kar-Lok, references to Boogie Nights, deleted scenes, Jeffrey Chou's trials and tribulations as a first time actor and Pang discloses tips on how to avoid getting your movie slapped with a Category III rating. None of it really goes in depth but you'll get the occasional good glimpse into the making of AV.

The fact that we get to see the participants does help as group commentaries can make voices hard to distinguish. Otherwise, this does not enhance the experience much outside of the amusing moments where the Pang and the actors take phone calls during the session (Chapman To calls in at one point).

Even though Pang during the commentary promises 30 minutes of deleted scenes, this particular segment only runs 9 minutes and 46 seconds. Disappointingly, it has no subtitles however. Of note is that Jim Chin has extra scenes that were cut but otherwise, the importance and weight of the excised segments is hard to judge if you don't understand Cantonese. Finally, the NG footage reel (1 minute, 43 seconds) got the usual assortment of blunders, flubbed lines but some amusing antics of Eric Kot and a looooong screen kiss at the end.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson