Run Papa Run

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Udine Far East Film Festival

"Run Papa Run" (the Chinese title means "A Good Father"), a film about a gangster transformed by paternal instincts, suffers from generic schizophrenia. Actress-director Sylvia Chang pulls out a new bag of tricks filled with vibrant animated sequences, wacky production design, a racy tempo and even cheeky first-person address to audience. However, the married-to-the-mob sitcom sobers up awkwardly into melodrama advocating Confucian family values and bourgeois social aspirations.

Audience reaction is bound to be conflicted locally in Hong Kong as well as overseas. A little too commercial for festivals but not mainstream enough for overseas distribution, "Run Papa Run" won't be sprinting beyond Chinese-speaking markets.

Louis Koo is a natural as happy-go-lucky middle-rung gangster Tin-Yun while Rene Liu hams it up as Mable, a novice lawyer from a cultivated, upper-crust background. The odd coupling between the soft-centered toughie and prissy-yet-frisky Catholic girl, their shotgun wedding and even Tin-yun's awakening fatherly instincts are all depicted with crowd-pleasing humor.

It is when Tin-yun struggles to deal with the hardnosed demands of triad elders and the economic hardships of coming clean for his daughter's sake that the film misses its groove. The running joke of Tin-yun keeping salvation options open by burning incense to Guan Yu (Cantonese god of cops and gangsters) and proselytizing to Holy Mary, and the reversion to a surreal ending sum up the film's own confused traditional/modern identity.

Nora Miao, a '70s action heroine who appeared in Bruce Lee's films, puts in a touching performance as Tin-yun's foul-mouthed but caring mother. The mother-son bond/feud is finely-tuned, and often upstages the father-daughter relationship -- partly because it is hard to identify with the growing girl who is played by several young actresses, each less cute than the last.

Red On Red/JCE Movies Limited
Sales: Emperor Motion Pictures

Cast: Li Tin-yun: Louis Koo; Mable Chan (Rene Liu); Li's mother: Nora Miao; Big Head: Lam Suet, Big Eyes: Max Mok.

Director: Sylvia Chang; Writers: Sylvia Chang, Susan Chan, Mathias Woo; Based on the novel by: Li Shun-yan; Producers: Willy Chan, Patricia Cheng, Solon So; Executive producer: ; Director of photography: Chan Chi-ying; Production designer: Lam Chung Man; Music: Kay Huang, Baby Chung; Editor: Kong Chi-leung.
No MPAA rating; running time 115 minutes.
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