Vulgaria (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Third Window Films) Running Time: 92 minutes approx.
To Wai-Cheung (Chapman To) is a film producer whose career is going nowhere, having not made a single successful film. His is unable to pay his alimony to his ex-wife, lawyer Tsang Lai-fun (Kristal Tin) for their daughter Jacqueline (Jacqueline Chan), so To takes up an offer from his friend Lui Wing-Shing (Simon Loui) to meet a wealthy mainland investor Tyrannosaurus (Ronald Cheng). The next day To learns that he drunkenly agreed to make a film for Tyrannosaurus – a remake up the 1976 Shaw Brothers classic Confession Of A Concubine, starring his idol, it’s original actress Yum Yum Shaw (Susan Shaw), now a grey haired old lady who refuse to strip again. Backed against the wall, To comes up with the idea of using CGI to superimpose Shaw’s head onto the body of sexy young starlet Tsui Ka-yan (Dada Chan) instead.
Noted film maker Pang Ho-cheung has flirted between the mainstream and CAT III films over his career but after 2010’s gore fest Dream Home and rom com Love In A Puff from the same year the took a step closer to the commercial side. Vulgaria, rather ironically, sees him effectively crossing that line despite being the antithesis of everything commercial in Hong Kong cinema. Foul language, sexual innuendo, bawdy humour and a savage satire of Hong Kong’s growing unrest with mainland China, this was the highest grossing film in Hong Kong in 2012. Go figure.
Despite a witty disclaimer at the start of the film explaining what kind of objectionable material one should expect to see, Vulgaria is rather tame all told. There is no nudity, most of the sexual related jokes we’ve been making for the past forty years here in the UK and, aside from a couple of largely restricted depictions of acts of fellatio, is sex free. It is really the over use of profanity – some in English – that justifies the title; mostly this is a story of one man fighting against the odds to make his daughter proud, since young Jacqueline would like to see her father’s name in lights.
It is almost forty minutes into the film when the main plot device of the film making exercise comes into play. Prior to this we are treated to a protracted opening that introduces the main characters but really goes nowhere. Things start to pick up as To is forced to woo the aged film star Yum Yum Shaw (who starred in the genuine Confession Of A Concubine), call in a favour from an old director friend Blackie Tat (Matt Chow) who now works in an illegal gambling house, and meets his prospective new star Tsui Ka-yan, also known as Popping Candy – a name earned through her inventive use of a confection us kids of the 80’s called Space Dust, during a certain intimate act. To also has to contend with a sexual harassment law suit from his mainland assistant Quin (Fiona Sit), who misunderstands his Cantonese complaints of her poor work ethic.
Whether the film is hilarious depends on how funny one finds jokes about erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, oral sex, masturbation, bestiality and breast size. Got the giggles yet? Then this is the film for you. Aside from such easy targets for smutty jokes, the dialogue is laced with unnecessary profanity which is probably more the cause of it adult rating in Hong Kong. But beneath all of the lewd and crude frivolity there is a human interest story slowly bubbling away, in which To is trying to maintain his access to his daughter Jacqueline by proving to his ex Lai-fan that he is worthy of being good ad, something which Jacqueline believes he is. Instead Lai-fan looks down her nose at To and barks all kind of unflattering instructions to her daughter, such as washing her hands after touching something in To’s apartment. It’s actually not money or fame that is spurring To on but his promise to his daughter to make a film people will see.
Pang Ho-cheung also takes a few little swipes at the Hong Kong film industry for its reliance on mainland investor to ensure a film gets noticed by both the public and studios alike. The character of Tyrannosaurus is portrayed as a flamboyant, immature, spoiled pervert with a fetish for mules, while To’s flighty assistant Quin spends more time letting her boss down than doing him any favours but is quick to call foul when he picks her up on this. It’s a fair chance that viewers with little knowledge or understanding of Asian current affairs may not find much in this aspect but for the home market, it was no doubt seen as a kick in the groin for the mainlanders.
Credit is also due to Pang for making this film on a meagre budget in just twelve days, the end result looks good and is well shot and edited. The female cast are suitably glamorous and fetching while Chapman To is the perfect choice for the role of To due to his world weary babyface making him easily sympathetic, even when he is trying to a big shot.
Vulgaria has a story with tremendous potential, but Pang and writer Chiu-Wing Lam seemed to lose focus on this and spend too much time on other inconsequential areas while the real meat of the plot is left to go rotten. The success of the humour is subjective, unfortunately not impressing this writer, and the haphazard approach to the story makes for a disjointed viewing.
Sorry Hong Kong, you should leave the puerile lewd comedies to Hollywood and stick to what you do best – crime thrillers.
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Rating – ** ½
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