Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Lost in Hong Kong: The Blockbuster Franchise Continues

How lost can two Mainlanders get in Hong Kong? Sure, there is the whole Cantonese vs. Mandarin thing, but the latter has become much more prevalent since 1997. However, Xu Lai’s annoying brother-in-law could get lost anywhere. The problem is the would-be documentarian never stays lost for long. He dogs the middle-aged brassiere manufacturer every step of the way as he attempts reconnect with an old flame in Xu Zheng’s Lost in Hong Kong (trailer here), which releases today on DVD and BluRay from Well Go USA.

In 1995, Xu was passionate art student romancing his bombshell classmate, Yang Yi, but whenever they tried to have a quiet romantic moment, events conspired against them. Through a twist of fate, Xu wound up marrying Cai Bo (nicknamed “Spinach”) from the management school and shelving his dubious artistic ambitions to work for her father’s ladies undergarments business. For twenty years, he kept wondering what could have been, so when Yang invites him to the opening of her latest retrospective, Xu resolves to sneak out for that long-denied smooch. Unfortunately, Spinach’s over-indulged younger brother Cai Lala is determined to film Xu for his ill-conceived documentary.

During the brief sit-down Xu grants him, the aggressively irritating Lala unknowingly films a murder transpiring in the opposite high-rise. The cops and killer will want to get their hands on Cai’s camera, but they will have to follow the quarreling brothers-in-law they dash through Hong Kong on a series of misadventures.

Like the old Hope-Crosby “Road” movies, the three “Lost” films are only loosely related thematically, usually involving some form of travel, while featuring a wackily mismatched duo. At this point, Xu Zheng is the main constant, having starred as the straight man half of the bickering tandems and serving as director and co-writer of the second two installments.

Without question, Hong Kong represents a significant step-up in quality from Lost in Thailand (which was the highest grossing Chinese film until Monster Hunt came along). There is still plenty of broad slapsticky humor, but the melodrama involving Xu’s college love triangle is surprisingly potent. Xu Zheng shrewdly takes his time establishing the relationships in a ten minute prologue that is charmingly nostalgic, even if you were not attending a Chinese university at the time. Throughout the film, he frequently tips his hat to the iconic HK films of the nineties and stocks the soundtrack with the era’s popular Cantopop hits. As a result, the more deeply steeped viewers are in HK pop culture, the richer they will find the Lost in Hong Kong viewing experience.

Still, for those who don’t know Ringo Lam from Ringo Starr, Xu ends it with a nifty action-suspense sequence set high in the air amid a skyscraper construction site. It is cleverly choreographed and entails some real drama. Granted, the horrendously shticky Cai Lala needs to be euthanized, but in general, Hong Kong is more grounded and less over-the-top goofy than its blockbuster predecessor.

By now, Xu Zheng is an expert at holding his own opposite outrageous loons, but he is also quite solid in his quiet scenes with Du Juan’s Yang Yi and (Vicki) Zhao Wei’s Cai Bo (seriously, he settled for Vicki Zhao?). Let’s just say Bao Bei’er’s work as Cai Lala doesn’t travel well (just like his character). However, cult director Wong Jing brings down the house in an extended cameo of himself, duly filming on the streets guerrilla-style, sans permit. Actually sort of recommended as a comedy unembarrassed to show its sentimental side, Lost in Hong Kong is now available on DVD, BluRay and digital formats, from Well Go USA.