Doomsday Party (Moot Yat Paai Dui): Film Review
Hong Kong helmer Ho Hong delivers a socially-tinged feature debut tracing the back stories of multiple characters.
Among the characters in Ho Hong’s film is a perturbed ex-schoolteacher who spends his days surveying press cuttings documenting Hong Kong’s brewing social turmoil. It’s perhaps apt that he’s played by Ho’s showbiz-veteran mentor-producer Teddy Robin. With its spirited but insubstantial depictions of one too many threads for a two-hour film, his protégé's self-styled social-critique drama skims the surface of Hong Kong's social turmoil like a montage of newspaper headlines.
Revolving around a group of characters whose erstwhile coincidental connections are eventually heightened as they find themselves trapped in a bank after a botched robbery, Doomsday Party – an award-winner at the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum project market in March – is a showcase of ambition for first-time feature-film director Ho, as he and his three co-screenwriters attempt to weave a labyrinthine narrative laying down the interconnected nature of the many aspects of Hong Kong's problems.
But the youthful fury driving Doomsday Party has proved to be the film's very undoing: the filmmakers' inexperience has rendered the high-concept multi-linearity a conceit, while the initial rage against Hong Kong's ruling machine – as espoused by the frantic re-enactments of mass demonstrations and constant news-bulletin-style voiceovers speaking of yet another political impasse – quickly dissipates to reveal clichéd romantic or familial melodrama at its center, a flaw that Cheng Siu-keung's potent cinematography and Wenders Li's kinetic editing could only struggle to salvage.
While the film could gain considerable traction at home by positioning itself as a genuinely local-flavored production, it will probably not match Robin's previous hit Gallants, a more fully-formed production (and directed, admittedly, by the more experienced duo of Derek Kwok and Clement Cheng).
While likely a general allusion to Hong Kong's social and political landscape, the title of Ho's film is most evident in the pre-credit, thriller-style sequence, when the story seems to skip between a bomb threat at the government headquarters besieged by demonstrators and two bomb-wielding robbers holding up a bank.
As opening credits drifts off, the tension and intrigue also drop, and don't return for a long time. We must wait as Ho rewinds the proceedings and introduces the characters and their cliched back stories. There's the bank teller Wan-yee (Kay Tse) struggling with a moral crisis brought on by her job hawking insecure financial investments, and the affairs of her cram-school entrepreneur boyfriend Victor (Wilfred Lau). There's Wan-yee's ex-paramour, the frustrated cop Ho (Paul Wong), whose gradual loss of eyesight is a problem for his investigation into a series of bomb attacks – the work of the self-styled vigilante Lang (Kelvin Kwan) and his associate, a feisty street punk Fish (Fish Liew).
Added to the mix is a parliamentarian (Cheung Kwok-keung) operating on dodgy political motives and fretting over an extra-marital affair with Maggie Chan's affluent socialite Rebecca, who – surprise, surprise – happens to be related to one of the characters as well. And there's Teddy Robin's schoolteacher, haunted by a student who committed suicide, and furious about losing his life savings when his financial investments (coerced by a former student who now manages Wai-yee's bank) crashed and burned.
At once complicated in the characters' meandering links and simplistic in their embodiment of Hong Kong's somehow much more intricate socio-economic schisms, Doomsday Party barrels on, with the proceedings increasingly reliant on contrived coincidences. By the time the film returns to the ending that was shown at its start, the wrath has subsided and its pretensions of an edge have fallen off completely. The protests and political commentary have become merely a backdrop for a story about love, respect and sacrifice.
This loss of focus is echoed by the post-credits sequence of the cast all dressed up in wacky costumes and singing an irony-free track called "Let's Party"; a deserving coda, perhaps, for the young filmmakers who have, admittedly, stretched their limits for the first full-length feature. But the frivolity would only work well if Doomsday Party were a satire; in this concession to create a ripple with the audience, it only undermines the seriousness the filmmakers seem to want their film to be regarded with.
Production Company: Film Plus Plus Production
Director: Ho Hong
Cast: Paul Wong, Kay Tse, Teddy Robin, Kelvin Kwan, Wilfred Lau
Producers: Kwan Wai-pang (Teddy Robin), Ho Hong, Roddy Wong
Screenwriters: Ruby Law, Joe Chan, Grace Mak, Ho Hong
Director of Photography: Cheng Siu-keung
Editor: Wenders Li
Music: Teddy Robin, Tommy Wai
International Sales: Why Entertainment (Asia), All Rights Entertainment (outside Asia)