Review: ‘Vulgaria’


A truth-in-advertising title if ever there was one, "Vulgaria" charts the cheerfully offensive misadventures of a film producer for whom self-humiliation and associating with kinky gangsters are all in a day's work.

A truth-in-advertising title if ever there was one, “Vulgaria” charts the cheerfully offensive misadventures of a film producer for whom self-humiliation and associating with kinky gangsters are all in a day’s work. Freewheeling pic, helmed by the prolific Pang Ho-cheung (“Love in a Puff,” “Love in the Buff”), scores more hits than misses and, deep down, has a warm heart that bobs up nicely in the closing stages. Going to gross-out places few, if any, Cantonese comedies have ever gone, “Vulgaria” looks certain to attract broad-minded adults on its Aug. 9 domestic release. Stateside bow is set for Sept. 28.

Popular thesp and occasional producer Chapman To is ideally cast as B-movie hack To Wai-chen. With his angry ex-wife, Tsang (Kristal Tin), threatening to withhold access to their young daughter, Jacqueline (Jacqueline Chan), unless he ponies up the mountain of alimony he owes, To has been invited by old friend Professor Cheng (Lawrence Cheng) to participate in a Q&A with film students. Setting the tone for what’s to come, To draws a funny comparison between movie producers and pubic hair: Both exist to ease friction between people.

That’s just a warm-up for To’s no-holds-barred account of how his new movie was financed and filmed. Flashbacks kick off with To and best buddy Liu (Simon Loui) meeting Tyrannosaurus (Ronald Cheng, funny), a gangster from the mainland province of Guangxi who likes to eat animal genitals. The moneybags wants to bankroll a remake of his favorite film, the 1976 Shaw Brothers sex scorcher “Confession of a Concubine,” but only if Yum Yum Shaw (Susan Shaw, playing herself delightfully) reprises her original starring role. Worse still, To and Liu are told the deal can be sealed only if they have sex with a mule.

The question of whether the act was indeed performed is thankfully left hanging, as a grab-bag of uneven vignettes shows the preparations for and filming of the softcore epic. While many gags flop outright or outstay their welcome, To’s spot-on comic timing ensures the profanity-littered hijinks earn a passing grade. Of the dozens of characters flying in and out of frame, the strongest impressions are made by Dada Chan as “Popping Candy,” a busty starlet with an unusual gift, and Matt Chow as Blackie Tak, a down-at-the-heels director who runs a gambling den with childcare facilities.

The biggest and best surprise is how convincing, even rewarding, To’s domestic dramas turn out to be; at the end of all the raunch and vulgarity, the story is essentially about a guy who just wants to be a good father.

Pic was shot in just 12 days, and its fast-and-cheap look suits the subject matter. Technical aspects are pro.


Hong Kong


A Golden Scene (in Hong Kong)/China Lion Film Distribution (in North America) release of a Sun Entertainment Culture presentation of a Making Film Prods. production. (International sales: Golden Scene, Hong Kong.) Produced by Subi Liang, Pang Ho-cheung. Executive producer, Alex Dong. Directed by Pang Ho-cheung. Screenplay, Pang, Lam Chiu-wing, Luk Yee Sum.


Camera (color), Jason Kwan; editor, Wenders Li; music, Alan Wong, Janet Yung; art director, Ho Lok-lam; costume designer, Ho; sound (Dolby Digital), Ken Wong; visual effects supervisor, Bart Wong; associate producer, Kenny Chan; assistant director, Keith Chan; second unit camera, S.K. Yip. Reviewed on DVD, Phnom Penh, July 19, 2012. (In PiFan Film Festival -- Vision Express; Hong Kong, Udine Far East, New York Asian film festivals.) Running time: 92 MIN.


Chapman To, Ronald Cheng, Dada Chan, Susan Shaw, Simon Loui, Matt Chow, Jacqueline Chan, Kristal Tin, Hiro Hayama, Lam Suet, Lawrence Cheng, Fiona Sit, Miriam Yeung. (Cantonese, English dialogue)
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