'Missbehavior' ('Gung hei bat pou'): Film Review

Juvenile, crude, potty-mouthed and mostly a good time.

Gigi Leung and Dada Chan star alongside a raft of up-and-comers in Pang Ho-cheung’s New Year offering, a return to the bawdy comedy of 'A.V.' and 'Vulgaria.'

Writer-director Pang Ho-cheung has a way with words, and it’s part of the reason he has become the patron saint of Hong Kong comedy with Stephen Chow seemingly dialing back his output (as well as cozying up to Beijing). In the wake of his popular Love in a Puff/in the Buff/off the Cuff trilogy, Pang taps his inner juvenile for a Lunar New Year comedy engineered for maximum giggles and minimum analysis. Pang has done crass comedy before, quite hilariously in 2005’s A.V. and 2012’s Vulgaria, and in his latest, Missbehavior, he wrangles the same balance of coarseness and genuinely witty observations for a crowd-pleaser.

Missbehavior will be a tough sell overseas, and to a degree regionally, where audiences unfamiliar with Hong Kong’s housing woes and epic-fail-turned-ironic-hit firefighting mascot, the unsexy, blue jumpsuit-clad Yam Ho Yan (a play on words meaning “anybody,” designed to promote basic first aid) may struggle with the local gags. But the film’s more universal observances — about the double standards working mothers are held to and the lunacy of retail banking — should resonate widely. Rampant rumors that Pang is in talks to sell the rights for a rare Hollywood remake of a Hong Kong film could also generate curiosity beyond the home market, where it dominated the box office ahead of the official holiday.

There’s not much to Missbehavior, which truly can only be described as a breast-milk caper comedy (you read that right). The inciting incident unfolds when financially strapped office worker June (June Lam) helps her stressed boss Luna Fu (Isabella Leung), just back from maternity leave and compelled to pump at work, impress an important client (veteran Patrick Tse). When he asks for a low fat latte — you know where this is going — June uses Luna’s breast milk by accident. It goes over like a house on fire with the client, but June now has to replace the milk before Luna heads home or likely lose her job.

The film’s title incorporates a phrase meaning “eight women” that colloquially means “congratulations, bitch,” which the friends toss around affectionately; it’s the name of their WhatsApp chat group. So June calls on her gang of seven buddies to save the day. They include the world’s most glamorous beat cop, May (Gigi Leung, playing the straight man); bad writer and borderline idiot Rosalin (Dada Chan, always good fun); her quasi-arch nemesis Minibus (relative newcomer Yanki Din), a budding ukulele musician; kindergarten teacher Eva (Jo Koo); gay couple (natch) Boris and Frank (Tan Han-jin and Chui Tien-you); and the voice of reason holding them together, Isabel (Isabel Chan, deliciously deadpan). In teams, they fan out across Hong Kong to find a bottle of breast milk by 5 p.m. Cue shenanigans.

It’s all as goofy and nonsensical as it sounds, but Pang’s cast of regulars is a well-oiled machine, and he and co-writer Sunny Lam are as fond of their characters as the characters are of each other. There is plenty of juvenile toilet humor and fart jokes that will turn off some viewers, but there are just as many pithy, throwaway comments for anyone paying attention — among them Luna’s ultra-dumb temp from HR who “copies” the data on a CD on the photocopier; a kindergartener who demands $500 for information on how to find some milk, because she needs to start saving for an apartment; and a banking drone threatening June with collections for overdue mortgage payments immediately followed by an offer for a low-interest credit card. Pang is one of Hong Kong’s most progressive filmmakers, and his requisite gay couple never teeters over into cliché; rather they are the source of more jabs about LGBTQ rights, as Boris and Frank use their unrecognized status as a part of a plan to secure the elusive baby food.

At just barely 80 minutes (not including credit scroll filler), Missbehavior moves quickly and is blessed with little unnecessary fat. In addition to Tse, local favorites Miriam Yeung (the Love trilogy), Siu Yam-yam as a mercenary doula and Lam Suet (the industry’s go-to actor for shady types) show up in brief cameos, the latter as Hong Kong’s worst waiter (a joke that never gets old). Tech specs are flawless, and Wong Ngai-lun and Janet Yung’s jaunty score keeps the proceedings as light as a feather. Careful translation — or transplantation — will be needed for any remake if the rumors are true, but the building blocks of a left field contemporary comedy (think Tiffany Haddish and Kate McKinnon) are there for the taking.

Production company: Making Film
Cast: Isabel Chan, Dada Chan, Gigi Leung, June Lam, Yanki Din, Chui Tien-you, Tan Han-jin, Lam Suet, Patrick Tse, Jo Koo, Matt Chow, Siu Yam-yam, Derek Tsang, Ashina Kwok, Carmen Tong, Isabella Leung, Miriam Yeung
Director: Pang Ho-cheung
Screenwriters: Pang Ho-cheung, Sunny Lam
Producer: Subi Liang
Executive producer: Tam Wai-ping
Director of photography: Jam Yau
Production designer: Yiu Hoi-san
Costume designer: Pinky Fung
Editor: Wenders Li
Music: Wong Ngai-lun, Janet Yung
World sales: Bravos Pictures

In Cantonese
88 minutes