The formally elegant "Fu Bo" takes a stylish, meditative and sometimes grisly look at the role of death among the living, although co-helmers Wong Ching-Po and Lee Kung-Lok can't resist throwing lots of genre elements into the mix in order to up the body count.

The formally elegant “Fu Bo” takes a stylish, meditative and sometimes grisly look at the role of death among the living, although co-helmers Wong Ching-Po and Lee Kung-Lok can’t resist throwing lots of genre elements into the mix in order to up the body count. With a good transfer to film and some decent subtitles — the current ones are often incomprehensible for several scenes in a row — pic could get a longer ride on fest gurneys, and maybe a brief theatrical afterlife.

Pic takes an unusual view of the island of Macau, mainly through the back doors represented by morgue and prison. Overseeing the bodies is an appropriately morose fellow (Liu Kai-Chi), called Fu Bo, or Uncle Fu, by local tradition. His identity is obscure, but has something to do with a housewife-turned-hooker (Paulyn Sun), a small boy, a corrupt cop, and a doped-up gangster who doesn’t seem to feel anything, and is bugged by that.

Meanwhile, across town, in a medieval-looking fortress prison, a death-row cook (Jacob Mense) takes it upon himself to listen in priest-like fashion to the final words, in Cantonese or Portuguese (a holdover from colonial days) of inmates about to go before an ever-ready firing squad. On their days off, the cook and Uncle Fu are seen traversing Macau separately, and stopping to savor the small moments of human interaction that make life worthwhile. Their fates are inextricably drawn together toward the end, which turns out to also be where the film begins, mysteriously.

Pic’s colorful mood-setting is controlled enough to make relatively palatable numerous scenes of autopsies and morgue procedures, some of which (as in a seg with bodies pulled from the river) are exceedingly macabre. Enigmatically lit pic strains a bit to tie together its disparate elements, connecting them with tricky dissolves and emphasizing the fringes of society to make its main points, which exude a kind of Buddhist resignation to mortality — Buddhist in the Quentin Tarantino sense, that is.

Fu Bo

Hong Kong

Production

A Yi Yi Prods. (Hong Kong) production, in association with the Hong Kong Arts Development Corp., Fund Macau. (International sales, Hong Kong Arts Center.) Produced by Sandy Yip. Directed, edited by Wong Ching-Po, Lee Kung-Lok. Screenplay, Simon Lai.

Crew

Camera (color, DigiBeta), Wong Ping-Hung; music, Tommy Wai; production designer, Wong Sau-Ping; costume designer, Steve Yip; set decorator, Cheng Chak-Wing; sound, Lee Kwun-Wai; assistant director, Kenneth Yuen. Reviewed at Vancouver Film Festival (Dragons & Tigers), Sept. 29, 2003. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Liu Kai-Chi, Lee Sze-Chit, Paulyn Sun, Jacob Mense, Hugo Ng, Eric Tsang, Anthony Wong. (Cantonese and Portuguese dialogue)
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