The Diary Of A Big Man (1988)

Directed by: Chor Yuen
Written by: Philip Cheng & Ng Man Fai
Producer: Tsui Hark
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Joey Wong, Sally Yeh, Waise Lee, Carrie Ng & Kent Cheng

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Nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1989:
Best Original Film Song: Daai cheung foo yat gei (Big Husband's Diary)
Music, Lyrics & Performer: Chow Yun-Fat

The comedy The Diary Of A Big Man is on paper interesting for a number of reasons. Made in 1988, a year when Chow Yun-Fat took part in no more than 9 movies (a downstep compared to his 11 roles in 1987). It also offers a rare chance to hear Chow Yun-Fat sing and it did earn him a Best Original Film Song nomination at the HKFA the following year. Directing is Chor Yuen, a name more widely familiar in 2003 thanks to Celstial/IVL's Shaw Brothers dvd releases. Chor Yuen was very active as a director for Shaw's and left behind him movies such as Killer Clans, Magic Blade and Death Duel (which was also actor, later turned director, Derek Yee's debut as a leading man). As the era of Shaw Brother's filmmaking winded down in the 80s Chor Yuen divided his time between directing and acting. The role fans will probably remember him most for is the villainpart in Jackie Chan's Police Story. The Diary Of A Big Man Chor did during the later stages of his directing career (he made his first film in 1957!) and it proved to be a success at the box office, taking in over 19 million Hong Kong dollars.

Ah Fat (Chow Yun-Fat) encounters two women (Joey Wong and Sally Yeh) on the same night and decides to pursue an romantic interest in both. When ready to propose he makes a mistake and in the end marries them both instead of choosing one. He is now living a double life with lies and deception that is about to crumble when the girls find out the truth...

The Diary Of A Big Man doesn't resemble anything Chor Yuen made at Shaw Brother's but it posesses a certain charm that makes it a worthy entry among his directing credits. The opening scene is actually, for this kind of film, well contructed. In a simple way director Chor Yuen gets the main trio of characters in the same spot which then leads to the start of the main plot. Pacing is pretty fast after this and when I say pretty fast I mean REALLY fast! The opening credits sequence is a montage showing Ah Fat's dilemma that is then intercut with him talking to the camera about his life and the troubles within it ('nicely' framed in a square with bold colours around it). The director seems to be telling 90 minutes worth of plot in 12 minutes but in fact it doesn't hurt the movie as much as it sounds. Screenwriters Philip Cheng along with Ng Man Fai really only has one joke to play around and sadly all its potential is depleted after about half the movie. The skit structure involving the same subject and people does become entertaining in the end. Mostly because Chor Yuen maintains a great sense of energy in the comedy and adding Chow Yun-Fat on top of that. The character of Ah Fat is creative in coming up with new lies and it's fun to see how all this backfires on him all the time.

Chor Yuen is truly blessed to have Chow in this movie because without his energy the, not very imaginative, comedy would've been flat and uninteresting. A perfect example of that is the only high-energy comedy bit without Chow. Here the slapstick is indeed flat and only comes off as talky rather than funny. Chow Yun-Fat enters a scene later and the movie is back in a safer territory. When talking about Hong Kong comedies it could be worth pointing which kind of humour a particular movie employs. You have the more word based Cantonese humour that Stephen Chow is famous for but The Diary Of A Big Man uses universal farce-like comedy. That means more visual humour and if it's in the words it comes through in the translation.

So going back to the good and bad. Our first half is kept together with enough variation of the same joke but logic says that Ah Fat is going to lose control of the situation. It is when his very helpful friend Chi Hung (Waise Lee from Bullet In The Head) no longer can keep track of Ah Fat's lies that also the audience gets lost. The joke have become worn and even if the women now take over the plot that energy previously seen is not as evident. The ending is then way too drawn out and the movie doesn't seem to know which way to go.

The acting is on par for a comedy movie and Chow Yun-Fat is on top form here.. He was never competing for the comedy throne but he can carry one. There's rarely lack of charisma in a Chow Yun-Fat performance but with this humour timing is such a crucial thing. Fear not, Chow rises to the task and watching Ah Fat's ordeals is enough to get the viewers blood preassure up to a dangerous point. Not that we sympathize with him (he's pretty mean to Waise Lee's character) but seeing how he is about to get caught so many times makes for decent excitement actually. Sally Yeh and Joey Wong first gets pretty thankless roles as the unknowing victims of the deception. They're eye-candy for the viewing audience but they're rarely given a chance to do anything but be the victims. Then later in the story they turn the tables on Ah Fat and distances themselves from the stereotypical helpless female in a Hong Kong movie (or a Wong Jing movie even). Waise Lee displays surprisingly good comedic timing in a few scenes plus we see Kent Cheng and Carrie Ng in supporting roles.

The question is whether the hardcore fan would like to see their favourite actor clown around like he does in Chor Yuen's The Diary Of A Big Man. I personally thought it was a welcome chance to see ever expandable range of Chow Yun-Fat. Even though the movie does feature a better first half I must say I had a good time. Very nice!

The DVD:

The 1.85:1 transfer by Universe passes on most levels. Colour and sharpness look very much ok for this older production and print damage is kept to only a small degree. Widescreen-tv owners will notice the lower matte changing positions between shots on occasion.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 mix remains true to its mono roots for the majority of the running time. Music tend to drown out dialogue when used more intensely but other than that it sounds perfectly fine. A Mandarin 5.1 dub is also on the disc.

The English subtitles features a fair amount of errors and grammar inaccuracies but is overall a passable translation. Japanese, Bahasa Indonesian, Korean, French, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Extras come in the form of reasonably informative Star's Files for Chow Yun-Fat, Sally Yeh and Joey Wong plus there's trailers for The Diary Of A Big Man, The Greatest Love, Spiritual Love, Scared Stiff and A Hearty Response.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson