Papa Loves You (2003)

Produced & directed by: Herman Yau
Written by: Herman Yau & Zexin
Starring: Charlene Choi, Tony Leung Kar-Fai, Marco Lok, Steven Cheung, Kenny Kwan, Johnny Lu, Eric Tsang & Paul Chun

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Single father Yam (Tony Leung Kar-Fai) struggles with keeping his daughter Ellen (Charlene Choi) in check. She constantly misbehaves in school and disobeys her father but this is all going to change. After Yam unknowingly rescues a triad boss (Eric Tsang), a group of youths from Ellen's school thinks Yam is the long lost legendary triad Misty Hawkie. They and many others become followers of the reluctant Yam but it does bring the family closer together...

Love it or hate but Hong Kong cinema once again goes for a multi-tone atmosphere to what essentially is a light family comedy. Herman Yau also grasps more creative control than usual in this surprisingly light venture coming from him, producing, co-writing and directing Papa Loves You and while it gets repetitious to say it, Yau lands once more on the decent level. Multiple final results equaling consistency should also equal kudos even though there's plenty for critics to pick on and tear apart in Papa Loves You, rightly so.

At best, Yau is a decent storyteller but with a skill for sly wit and satire and no different here. Not worrying about smoothly integrated exposition but instead getting it out of the way quickly in terms of the backstory to Yam and Ellen, Yau presents us with the politics of the school yard, all shot in hyperactive undercranked style that even borderlines on nauseating. This is not as much fun as another Tony Leung vehicle Jiang Hu - "The Triad Zone" (directed by Dante Lam) but Yau scores some points in the absolute idiotic and pointless ways students seek to walk the jiang hu way. The tone is light, awfully wacky and pointless in actuality but it's thanks to a human and real core that Papa Loves You in a minor way succeeds despite its uneven qualities.

The papa of the piece, Leung's Yam is just so over the top sissy and fragile that you could and should argue against if any humanity to him and Ellen's situation even should be attempted by the filmmakers. I beg to differ though as the story of a father and child coming together is always worth telling even though it never can be 100% fresh. If you rely on the real issues such as teenage rebellion and the need to appreciate what's given to you in life, you can go real, valid places. Yau inject all this after a load of Hong Kong cinema wackiness have gone by but is experienced enough to actually make us feel. It's simply heartbreaking as the distance between Ellen and Yam reaches a peak when it's shown that she'd rather spend her birthday with her friends rather than with her father who has prepared a feast and cake for her.

In actuality, there are relatively little doses of this calm, measured filmmaking but it's what manages to stay with you the most. Yau and writer Zexin furthermore goes on to examine the free for all, careless youth culture with equal hints at criticism as well as sly and even black humour. But there certainly are things wrong here as it wouldn't have landed at decent level only otherwise.

Frankly, casting a boatload of teenagers and popstars such as Steven Cheung and Kenny Kwan from Boy'z (in case you didn't know them as artists, that fact is put into parenthesis in the credits) makes for a movie with charisma coming only from one and a half performers (Leung and Choi). I'll give credit to these young performers (I hesitate to call them actors) for playing completely clueless and idiotic characters though. Ones either striving for the jiang hu way or already being part of it. Charlene Choi, the less talented of the duo The Twins, proves that she just disappears in the background when trying to act wild and wacky also. There's simply not a whole lot to care for when all these are alone on screen and Yau seems to know that he's no Derek Yee in terms of tapping into these performer's abilities. Thankfully he has Tony Leung Kar-Fai as the one to make us emotional and laugh along with the piece.

Leung's character portrayal when in sissy mode is ridiculously over the top but along the way there's a definite audience emotional investment in his plight to regain and control and find the bonding again between him and his daughter. While Ellen is unappreciative, Yam is also in need of growing as a man slightly to become the stronger figure in their lives. In a clever way, Yau sets it up so it's the triad way of life that gets these together again. The road Yam is trying to prevent Ellen from taking. Leung is also a frequently assured comedic presence and serves up the best sight gag during a confrontation with the character Blackie (the late Blackie Ko in a cameo). It's also working with Leung that Charlene Choi's actual strengths are apparent. She can very much be a winning, sweet presence when she's anything but the spunky twin. Her charisma with Leung is undeniably good and affecting therefore. Paul Chun and Eric Tsang provide support while Chin Ka-Lok, Fung Hak-On, Lo Meng, Cecilia Cheung, Lam Suet and Jason Pai also appear for various amounts of time.

It's only when Herman Yau actually decides to make Papa Loves You a serious story of life and death towards the end that the tone becomes much too unbearable. Although at its core, the story between Yam and Ellen gets resolved, the movie strays a bit. However, most Herman Yau movies rarely are thorough, well-executed experiences. It's when all the sums are added up to a cohesive whole that the strengths just baaaaarely edges out the weaknesses. And there lies something valid in that.

The DVD:

The anamorphic 1.78:1 presentation by Mei Ah contains a lot more print damage that one would expect from a recent film but otherwise colours, sharpness and detail registers well.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track provides decent front stage separation and overall adds to the atmosphere. A Cantonese DTS 5.1 as well as a Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 option is also available.

Some sloppy grammar and spelling turn up in the English subtitles but all meanings come through nonetheless. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Extras include a four part making of that comes with permanent Chinese subtitles only. The first runs a mere 55 seconds and shows us movie clips, interviews with Herman Yau, Eric Tsang and small snippets of behind the scenes footage. Next similarly structured programs focuses more on the performers, starting with a 3 minute, 14 second piece on Tony Leung. Him speaking at slightly at more length may mean more substance to the piece but I wouldn't know without the aid of English subtitles.

Charlene Choi occupies the next 4 minutes and 10 seconds. Standout moment here includes her being involved in a small accident with a moped and Tony Leung hurting his jaw when performing his own action. The final 3 minutes and 51 seconds is dedicated to the Boy'z (Steven Cheung & Kenny Kwan) and with predictably unexciting results. Instead it's Tony Leung who takes center stage as we see him participate greatly in the directing and behind the scenes work. The trailer and Mei Ah's rotten Databank rounds off the disc.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson