Missbehavior (Gong hei bat poh)

Hong Kong (2019) Dir. Pang Ho-cheung

It’s handy to have a network of friends to turn to for support and help you out when you are in trouble. I wouldn’t personally know about this but there have been many films with this very premise – even if the situation is a bizarre, like in this instance…

June (June Lam) is a hardworking assistant to the demanding Luna Fu (Isabella Leung), recently returning to work after maternity leave. Luna has been accused by her seniors for prioritising her baby over her clients thus is desperate to win a huge contract they are chasing. On the day of the pitch, June is asked to provide a low fat milk drink for the client, and uses a bottle marked “LF” in the fridge, thinking it meant low fat.

The pitch is successful and the client liked his unusual tasting milk drink. Afterwards a happy Luna asks June to fetch her bottle of breast milk from the fridge – the one marked with her initials “LF”. Fearing she will lose her job, June panics and phones her friend Isabel (Isabel Chan) to help get some replacement breast milk before the end of the day.

Pang Ho-cheung has a varied CV to his name with films covering many genres from drama, violent thrillers, black comedy, and shameless bawdy fare, like 2012’s Vulgaria and this latest effort Missbehaviour. This time however, Pang has made this his entry into the prestigious Luna New Year line-up, a tradition in China and Hong Kong where many celebrate by seeing the hot new cinema releases.

Usually star studded ensemble comedies, releases from top names or prestige pictures, Pang has gone for the former but hasn’t diluted his lewd leanings in hoping to attract the largest amount of eyeballs to his work against stiff competition. This might have been a deliberate ploy for fans of his work or anyone whose party itinerary includes a trip to the cinema for a good laugh.

But Chinese/Hong Kong humour has proven to be an acquired taste for many, bordering on the arcane when localised gags fail to translate for international audience, which is why the comedy is broad to say the least. The plot sounds like something that could have easily come from an episode of Family Guy, South Park, or an American Pie type grossout teen comedy.

Whilst the focus appears to be breast milk and a lot of gags are derived from it as you might expect, the actual plot deals more with the theme of friendship, the importance of respecting the disparate personalities in a group scenario, and putting petty squabbles for the greater good. Even with the sappy closing song on this subject, Pang is clear in never sanctimonious about it either.

June is the lynchpin of this group of old friends connected by WhatsApp known as the Bitches, who have recently splintered for different reasons. As the story progresses, flashbacks reveal June is the selfless one ready to help anyone at anytime without asking for anything in return and Isabel thinks it is time for the Bitches to repay their outstanding debts.

Isabel first approaches police officer May (Gigi Leung), her beef being she believes Isabel stole her boyfriend, but she agrees to help for June’s sake. Next, they target Rosalin (Dada Chan), an author whose novels are based on the Bitches, alienating her from them. Rosalin has an ardent following of nerdy males because of her sexy appearance though she thinks it is due to her literary skills.

The next recruit is Rosalin’s former singing partner Minibus (Yanki Din), a ukulele playing hippy and the bitterest towards her for ending the group, though it was Rosalin’s boobs that earned their attention. Finally, gay couple Boris (Tan Han-jin) and Frank (Chui Tien-You) are tracked down and brought up to speed regarding June’s dilemma.

May suggests everyone split up – Isabel and Rosalin work together doing the footwork whilst Minibus, Boris, and Frank scour the internet; May will be base command and June keep Luna Fu busy at work. Funnily enough, nobody actually questions why June would be fired over the missing breast milk (it got them the contract after all) they accept her plight, agree to help then worry about the difficulty of obtaining a replacement.

And so it begins. It would take too long to run down the various escapades that ensue – some are genius, some typically low brow, some hilarious – but Pang make sure that every base is covered in delivering some sort of satire on the situation. Internet fraud, scamming employees of the rich, perversion, and public manipulation all get a look in though nothing is that trenchant, mostly spoofed or ridiculed.

Some scenes – like Rosalin’s toilet troubles – should be beneath the cast, implying either Pang is so beloved by them they trust him with coarse material, or he has incriminating photos of them all. It is lucky nobody appears to be so lofty they aren’t prepared to humiliate themselves for the sake of his crude gags, Dada Chan in particular showing incredible self-awareness in her role as the token eye candy.

Despite a clunky opening act and occasional descent into the mire of bad taste, Pang does have us in the palm of his hand and we are invested and entertained by this motley crew of colourful characters and their unusual quest. Not everything hits but there are some genuine laugh out loud moments – the school kids in particular are great – and it is the silliness that makes it.

Missbehaviour is one of those films that is what you make of it. If you steel yourself into accepting you are getting into something that doesn’t consider itself high art and has no pretence other than to pass the time for 88 minutes and have a laugh along the way, it serves its purpose. Not for everyone but not bad for a giggle either.