Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pang Ho-cheung’s Vulgaria

How are producers different from the world’s oldest profession?  There is nothing the former won’t do for money.  Don’t believe it?  Well, watch as the producer-protagonist explains it all to his film school audience in Pang Ho-cheung’s Vulgaria (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

To Wai-cheung is a second rate producer of C-grade sexploitation films.  He owes Lawyer Tsang, his sharkish ex-wife, scads of alimony and takes the blame for all his little girl’s troubles in school.  Nothing is going right with his life.  Nonetheless, he keeps cobbling together dubious film projects.  After his latest pitch crashes and burns, he takes a dinner meeting with Brother T-Rex, a Guangzhou gangster with outrageous kinks (that mule is on the poster for a reason).  Against his better judgment, To agrees to produce a comeback vehicle for Tyrannosaur’s old crush, 1960’s Hong Kong sex symbol Susan Shaw (appearing as herself).

Of course, the last thing the down to earth Shaw wants to do in her sunset years is make a nudie movie.  No problem, To will just CGI her head onto ambitious sexpot Tsui Ka-yan’s curvy body.  Known as Popping Candy for reasons we can’t explain on a family website (well, sort of), Tsui turns out to have more substance than To gave her credit for.  However, he might have completely sold out his soul and his dignity to stay in the producing game.  Yet, if he can dredge up the repressed memories, he will confess them all to the film studies class he is addressing in the film’s flashback narrative device.

A real change of pace from Pang’s relationship dramedies like the misleadingly titled Love in the Buff, Vulgaria (rather aptly titled) follows more in the tradition of The Player and other satiric treatments of the movie-making process.  While never showing anything really graphic per se, Pang goes for broke embracing the film’s outrageous jokes (again, you saw that mule, right?).  Yet, the comedy works more often than not, traveling quite well from Hong Kong to America.

Pang regular Chapman To easily fits into the role of his namesake and the embarrassing situations that go with it.  Never too cringy, he portrays producer To in that Larry David-George Costanza zone, where the sad sack and the roguishness intersect.  As Tsui, Dada Chan is quite the discovery, exhibiting a sweetly endearing presence, but with plenty of va-va-voom.  Young Jacqueline Chan also gives the film some genuine heart as To’s forgiving daughter, also named Jacqueline. While many in the supporting cast play it way over the top, the material sort of lends itself to that approach.

Vulgaria is a lot like original The Producers-era Mel Brooks transplanted to the internet age, infectiously delighting in its political incorrectness.  It is a lot of laughs, but not for anyone who gets hung up on a naughty joke or the occasional mistreatment of animals.  Consistently funnier than the intermittent Klown, Vulgaria is recommended for those who appreciate the boldness (especially by HK standards) of its gags when it opens this Friday (9/28) in New York at the AMC Empire and in San Francisco at the AMC Metreon, courtesy of China Lion Entertainment.