Hu du men
Hong Kong, 1996
Josephine Siao Fong-Fong ... Lang Kim-Sum
Anita Yuen Wing-Yee ... Yuk-sheung
Daniel Chan Hiu-Tung Chun
Waise Lee Chi-Hung ... Mang-lung
Chung King-Fai ... Chan Yiu-cho
Tam Sin-hung ... Aung Ming
Siu Chung-kwan ... Uncle Tin
Michelle Wong Man ... Mimi
David Wu ... Lam
To On-Yun, Louise Lee Si-Kei, Chiu Hung, Lee Heung-Kam, Wong Man
|Reviewed by Shelly Kraicer at the 1996 Toronto International Film Festival
This Josephine Siao showcase should have been an even better movie. The dialogue writing is sharp, funny, and outrageous. But the story-telling is flawed: cliched, rushed, and full of an distressing number of loose ends and non-sequiturs. Perhaps Raymond To's play told a coherent, interesting story. But in adapting the script to a 90 minute movie, too much was left out. Or perhaps, too much was added in. While it's always welcome to see Anita Yuen in a new movie, her character here seems arbitrarily thrown in and poorly integrated into the story.
The cinematography is inventive, and Shu Kei employs a creative if somewhat distracting set of intertitles to comment on the story. But in a movie about music (Siao plays a Cantonese opera star with a rabid following), such a treacly film score by the usually reliable Otomo Yoshihide is plainly inadequate.
On the positive side, Josephine Siao has brilliant material to play with: whether she's teasing her English teacher or feverishly collecting hundreds of Snapple bottle-tops to win a contest ("Need a drink?", she asks everyone who walks by), her furiously fast, un-selfconscious, deadpan comic delivery is a hilarious to watch. She is also brilliant in the Cantonese opera scenes: she sings (I don't think she's dubbed here) and is a pretty limber acrobat, too.
And the film has some interesting things to say: impish satire of the HK pop-music world (Siao's rabid fans parody contemporary HK fan-mania, and look for the Leon and Leslie jokes); musings on what to do in a culture whose time seems to be up: modernize? emigrate?
The too unsubtle sub-plot about Siao's daughter and her female lover is echoed, in a much more interesting way, within Siao's character herself. On stage she plays heroic male roles, and off, she dresses in jacket and pants, and acts in a way that seems to be gendered "male" as much as "female" (the only time she puts on a dress, she looks and acts like she's really in drag). What lies trapped within the "hu-du-men" (the imaginary line between on-stage and off-) may be more than just on-stage personas. If the "stage" is taken to mean the social space within which we all construct our various roles and personalities, then Siao's imaginatively rendered character explores the constrictions hu-du-men imposes, the variety possible within it, and the strategies by which escape from it might be possible.
Josephine Siao the comedienne can pull all this off, seemingly effortlessly. But the filmmakers' touch here needs to be lighter, to match her. Still, Hu Du Men is a required viewing, to keep up with the brilliant work of its star.
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all content © 1996-2002 Shelly Kraicer