It's unfortunate that I couldn't write my review for this Hong Kong film much earlier because by the time you are reading this, its theatrical run in Malaysia has most likely ended. And this unheralded romantic comedy will most likely languish within the pits of obscurity, not getting the kind of attention it deserved. No choice, two of my aunties were here, along with my tiny cousins. So hadn't had the time to write anything in the past few days.
This romantic comedy, I'll Call You, is part of Andy Lau's Focus: First Cuts project, launched last year aimed at producing six features films shot on high definition. The First Cuts project involves filmmakers from China, Hong Kong, Malaysia (whose representative is Ho Yuhang, whom I met last year, along with fellow filmmakers James Lee and Tan Chui Mui, whose Chinese blog is here, at a seminar organized by local Chinese paper Sin Chew Jit Poh), Singapore and Taiwan. I'll Call You is Hong Kong's representative, and it's written and directed by Lam Tze Chung. If I'm not wrong, this is his directorial debut. If you are not familiar with his name, well, he's the fat guy in Shaolin Soccer (the one who levitates) and Kungfu Hustle (Stephen Chow's sidekick). Long before he was spotted by Stephen Chow, Lam Tze Chung was hired by Hong Kong's TVB to be their screenwriter at the tender age of 18!
I'll Call You is a dramedy about the perils of romance in a postmodern society. Manny (Alex Fong Lik Sun) is a nice fellow who gets involved in a romance of sorts with Karen (Viann Leung), a shopping channel host. Both of them are from entirely different worlds, he is a guy who takes relationships seriously, willing to do whatever it takes for the woman he loves (in simpler terms, he ends up being her bitch), Karen is a party girl who may kinda like Manny, but has no qualms with partying or making out with other guys she meets while clubbing at Lan Kwai Fong. To him, she is the love of his life, to her, he is just someone who is slightly more than a friend.
Perhaps if this is a bigger budget studio manufactured Hong Kong film featuring pop idols or bigger-named stars (Ekin Cheng, Twins, Miriam Yeung, Richie Ren, Louis Koo, anyone), the structure would've been a generic boy meets girl, boy and girl can't be together even though they are meant to be together due to some obstacles (personality clashes, third party, disagreeing parents, social status differences), then finally, their love for one another triumphs over everything.
But this is not such a film. Despite having a good-looking pair of leads, I'll Call You is more like a meditation on the emotional states of two people who have differing views in romance. Manny started out exuberant over the feeling of finally being in love after having his heart broken for more than three years, his joy symbolized by a colourful troupe of circus performers performing around him when he and Karen were walking down the streets together. Yet when things couldn't work well for him, happiness swung to depression, and instead of eating properly, he chose to indulge himself ceaselessly with alcohol, imprisoned in a dingy little cell that represents his mental state (a prisoner of his own self-pity). Oh, and he's accompanied by a muscular monk called Biggie who sings Andy Lau songs (Andy Lau in a cameo, playing the character from the award-winning Running On Karma)
The fantasy expositions, used creatively for laughs or narrative methapor, are definitely similar to popular sitcom Scrubs, and was something I was actually going to do with my last short film, Vertical Distance (before some technical difficulties and time limitations forced me to change my idea). Thanks to the solid performances of the two leads Alex Fong Lik Sun (who turned out to be a more solid actor than I've imagined) and Viann Leung (whom I've never seen before), Manny and Karen are realistic characters you would care for, hoping that things will end up better for them (even though it seemed unlikely that they could be together) as you watch them grow after facing the numerous trials and tribulations they underwent. But they also have a fine supporting cast, especially Gordon Lam (who is getting more and more promising after shunning his TV acting career for the big screen) and Chan Kwok Kwan (the Bruce Lee lookalike goalkeeper in Shaolin Soccer and the boss of the Axe Gang in Kungfu Hustle), who played Manny's buddies.
Perhaps the film hits a little too close to home for me, as I've suffered something similar not too long ago, in a scenario which eerily resembles what happened in the film. The pains of being attracted to a free-spirited party girl while nursing a broken heart, of watching her getting stone drunk at clubs, of watching her male buddies huddle around her, holding her hands as they help her out of the place like chivalrous knights in shining armour, comforting her as she weeps drunkenly, of watching all these helplessly at the corner with a slight sense of envy and worry, envious of those around her, worry for her well-being, trying to suppress the realization that things are never meant to be, the silent frustration and annoyance of her on-again off-again relationships, hopes raised, then dashed. Depression that can only be spirited away by non-stop productivity on my creative works. Manny is like me, yet unlike me, for I have my filmmaking and writing to dive into, and that I tend not to touch alcohol unless it is absolutely necessary.
But why this film review became something about myself? Maybe because it makes me wonder whether the same has happened to Lam Tze Chung, thus becoming a basis for this script. While collaborating with Stephen Chow might have influenced his flashy filmmaking techniques that reminds me of the student films done in my film course. All these never actually overwhelmed the feeling of authenticity I saw in this film. I do look forward to Lam Tze Chung's upcoming films. And I hope most of you would give this film a chance as well. I think it's better than most of the Hong Kong films I've seen this year (but then, it hasn't been a good year for Hong Kong cinema, the two other HK films I saw this year, Shopaholics and My Kungfu Sweetheart, are both pretty shitty flicks, click the film titles to read my reviews).
Watch the film trailer: