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Fully living up to its title, Vulgaria is Hong Kong comedy at its breeziest and most communicative. Even if this odyssey about a debt-ridden film producer who stoops as low as you can go to finance his next picture – a porn flick bankrolled by a gangster – it isn’t going to replace Mel Brooks’ The Producers as sub-genre leader anytime soon; it’s smooth and funny enough to win its own coterie of admirers. The laughs are universal and will ensure fast and furious festival bookings, but many of the references to local actors, etc., are in-jokes that won’t be caught outside H.K. It will be interesting to see how this witty, R-rated material is going to fly with more conservative Asian audiences.
It is the second film by prolific director Pang Ho-cheung to play in the current Hong Kong Intl. Film Festival, after his romantic comedy Love in the Buff opened the event. It’s not hard to see their strong local appeal. Both films pivot around a deep feeling for Hong Kong’s dialect, slang, food and social behavior, which in this case makes them even more interesting, if a bit less accessible, to the rest of the world. In the case of Vulgaria, there may be some remake value abroad.
The film’s extreme spontaneity is a result of the off-the-cuff way it was made in twelve days on a mini-budget, with the screenwriters penning scenes and actors improvising as they went along. The zippy pace, cascades of characters and droll perfs offer more proof of the director’s versatility and grasp of genres.
A film teacher has invited uninhibited veteran producer To Wai-cheung (Chapman To) to address his class of film students and explain what his profession is all about. To immediately takes charge and likens the producer’s job to pubic hair, specifically in its/his function of decreasing friction in the director’s intercourse with the financier. Prodded by questions from the floor, he launches in on a frank, often gross, history of his hit film Confessions of Two Concubines, in which he used wannabe actress Popping Candy (Dada Chan) as the 20-year-old body double for an aging porn star (a good-natured cameo by cult actress Susan Shaw.)
But before he gets everybody on the set, To is forced to scrape together some production funds. His ex-wife, a heartless lawyer, agrees to loan him money and suspend alimony payments for a year, on the condition he give up visitation rights to the daughter he adores. Of course he ends up accepting. An associate introduces him to a man with some money to invest – a glittery young mob boss whose lavish dinner party becomes the scene of a hysterical show-down. To atone for not eating the stomach-churning delicacies put before them, the producers are ordered to copulate with two female mules lead into the restaurant.
At this point To tells the student his memory goes blank (illustrated by a piece of 35mm film burning up), and it will not be until the end credits that the truth about that fateful night is revealed.
Chapman To, one of the recurring characters in the Infernal Affairs trilogy and co-producer on Pang’s Isabella, is instantly recognizable as the deadpan producer whose one-track mind rarely deviates from making movies. As such he is wholly sympathetic, even when succumbing to the advances of Popping Candy, an expert in exotic oral sex. Newcomer Dada Chan brings an uncommon archness to an airhead role that should signal her own big-screen break.
Production company: Making Film Productions
Director: Pang Ho-cheung
Cast: Chapman To, Dada Chan, Ronald Cheng
Screenwriters: Pang Ho-cheung, Lam Chiu-wing, Luk Yee-sum
Producers: Pang Ho-cheung, Subi Liang
Director of photography: Jason Kwan
Production designer: Ho Lok-lam
Editor: Wenders Li
Music: Alan Wong, Janet Yung
Sales Agent: Golden Scene Co. Ltd (Hong Kong)
No rating, 90 minutes.
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