Cocktail (2005)

Directed by: Herman Yau & Longisland So
Written by: Cheung Faan
Producer: Ng Kin-Hung
Starring: Candy Lo, Endy Chow, Race Wong, Derek Tsang, Bobo Chan, Lee Sze-Chit, Eric Kot & Lawrence Cheng

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Taking a part time job at the Heaven Hell pub, Paul (newcomer Endy Chow) faces the pleasing company of co-worker Stella (Race Wong - Abnormal Beauty), a number of contrasting guests that will shape him as an individual and a past pain in need to deal with in the form of a broken family...

Letting a new director onto the scene and working with the co-writer of Truth Or Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat, the at times dependable hard worker Herman Yau (Killing End, Walk In, The Untold Story) in a way gambles considerably with Cocktail. Featuring little to none ACTUAL actors or fresh story strands, Yau along with Longisland So (also credited elsewhere as Ching Long) goes to show why you can weave minor movie magic when dealing with familiarity. The tool and never in my life will I grow tired of handing out this as a reason; sincerity.

Threatening to be an overly pretentious philosophical journey rife with symbolism surrounding the Heaven Hell pub (referred to in the subtitles as Half-Mortal), Yau cunningly goes that route with Cheung Faan's script but focuses more on the different walks of life behind and in front of the counter. It's really true that you do see them all come and go. Whether or not you dare or should relate to them is a different matter. The film plays out like a couple of mini-movies as we first distinctly follows Derek Tsang's plight to overcome his pushover-status in the face of his girlfriend and boss. The Heaven Hell staff plays a part in communication that appears to mean little but it connects to the web of personal stories between the characters. Directing-wise, early on Yau and So appears to be working in the wrong movie as they've clearly established that it's pretty much a subdued drama in the making but quick-cuts, screwy angles and changing of aspect ratios flash by. Thankfully this never manage to intrude on the first only semi-interesting story before it actually gets interesting.

Predictably as we watch the structure unfold, the boss played by Candy Lo of Truth Or Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat appears more in the background and focus lies on Race Wong and Endy Chow's brewing romance. Beforehand destined to not go anywhere special at all since these two are clearly not character acting material, it's thanks to a serious dedication from script through to directing that Cocktail slowly but surely wins us over. Race Wong's Stella has not so much of a plight but the character is infectious, forward in the best of ways and the romance nicely simmers under the surface in her hands. So much so that there is a certain electricity in the air between her and Endy Chow. The film holds darker and more serious tones though, a shift that isn't much of a shift since there's only really two gags in the film. Endy Chow, a relatively blank face but fresh enough to deal with the material in a workable manner, gets layers to work with in the story about why he decides to stand behind a counter serving alcohol after his alcoholic father (well played by Lawrence Cheng) passes away. Hatred turns to respect and turns to self-hatred. It's pleasing to see Herman Yau handle the dark and fluffy material as well as he does, especially with a new "actor" at center.

It is touching in its simple ways and when Yau turns to the biggest crime of all by blasting the Canto-pop over emotional scenes, it's a wonder he gets the correct mileage out of the viewer's emotions, having established well why these should be emotional moments. I've said it before, Hong Kong cinema could and should thrive on the small vehicles. Put some decent thought, poignancy and sincerity into the beforehand bland premises and you'll get minor magic. Herman Yau proves he's one of a handful veteran directors that can lead this movement and even this Longisland So should be considered to have a place in a potential forthcoming new wave. Stay tuned...

The DVD:

Universe presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (outside of some odd moments that opens up the frame to everything between 2.00:1-2.35:1), with anamorphic enhancement. The print is free of wear, transfer replicates the strong colours well and sharpness lands on decent.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track has crisp front stage separation but dialogue is at times a few notches too low. Both due to poor mixing and original recording on set. A Mandarin 2.0 Stereo dub is also included.

Occasionally the English subtitles feature some poor grammar but nothing that any viewer won't be able to sort out. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also available

A few extras has made its way onto this Universe disc, none of which have any English subtitles. Starting with the short making of (2 minutes, 57 seconds), on display are brief interview bites, brief behind the scenes footage and presumably brief info. Gala Premiere (5 minutes, 2 seconds) as per many of these in Hong Kong is not as formal as it sounds. Actors gets introduced, briefly interviewed before audiences and true to the content of the film, they even do some drink mixing on stage, with less embarrassing results than you would think. The program ends with post-movie viewer reactions.

Star's Files are available for a high number of cast & crew, namely Ng Kin-Hung, Race Wong, Bobo Chan, Herman Yau, Endy Chow, Lawrence Cheng, Candy Lo, Derek Tsang and Eric Kot. Only Bobo and Eric gets combined short biographies and filmographies while the remainder are simple listings of the latter. A waste. A 15 page photo gallery consisting of high quality movie stills finishes the disc. The theatrical trailer is strangely enough not included.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson