×

BiFan Film Review: ‘G Affairs’

Lee Cheuk-pan's debut feature is a striking essay about moral decay in contemporary Hong Kong.

Director:
Lee Cheuk-pan
With:
Hanna Chan, Chapman To, Huang Lu

Running time: 105 MIN.

“The darker the underbelly, the prettier the top layer,” says one of the main characters in “G Affairs,” a striking, metaphor-heavy excursion into corruption and moral decay in contemporary Hong Kong. This knockout debut by young director Lee Cheuk-pan revolves around half a dozen people whose lives are connected by a severed head that appears in the film’s breathtaking opening shot. Standing stylistically apart from just about everything else in recent Hong Kong cinema, “G Affairs” picked up a swag of Hong Kong Film Awards nominations ahead of a brief local release in March. Lee’s urgent and vital film ought to enjoy a long festival run, especially in light of recent events that have placed renewed focus on the Special Administrative Region’s immediate and long-term futures.

“G Affairs” is at once a pulpy crime drama and an arresting exercise in experimental storytelling. The film takes its title from a device whereby everything is related to the letter G. Preventing this from being merely a gimmick is an early sequence in which G is established as a vital cog in the relationship of two key characters. The proliferation of G words and G visual references gives the film a strange but effective cohesion, even as events leap backward and forward in time and voiceover monologues take the story on tangents loaded with disdain for institutions and social trends.

The initial G moment is Bach’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in G Major, played in the aforementioned opening shot by schoolboy Tai (Lam Sen). In a long, unbroken 360-degree move framed in 4:3 ratio, the camera glides from grainy wildlife images on a video-projector screen to Tai at his cello and a prostitute having her hair savagely pulled back while attempting to answer the door. As she is having rough sex with an unidentified man, a human head comes flying through the window.

Popular on Variety

The first impression is of a police procedural, with cops grilling Tai about the incident while he claims to have amnesia. But it soon becomes clear that solving the case is much less important than conducting a detailed examination of those connected to the shocking event in apartment 6G.

Abandoned by his money and status-obsessed parents, Tai is an outspoken and heavily bullied student at St Cassian’s, an elite private school. Tai and Asperger’s-case classmate Don (Kyle Li) have been dragged into nefarious activities by Lung (Chapman To, in great form), an extremely corrupt cop first seen shooting an unarmed man dead and laughing it off with the quip, “Who cares if it’s a Mainlander?” After his wife died of gastric cancer, Lung hooked up with Xiao Mei (Huang Lu, excellent), a world-weary sex worker from the Mainland whose tragic backstory comments powerfully on possible future developments in Hong Kong’s legal system.

Teenager Yu Ting (Hanna Chan, superb), daughter of Lung and classmate of Tai and Don, emerges as the pivotal figure as Kurt Chiang Chung-yu’s intelligent and densely detailed screenplay unfolds. A clever girl who’s bullied relentlessly and tells viewers in voiceover, “I’m not liked, and I don’t care,” Yu Ting initially represents an innocent and unsullied Hong Kong. Before long, however, she is engaged in an oral sex-giving affair with Markus (Alan Yuk), a stitched-up Christian teacher at St Cassian’s, and a regular customer of Xiao Mei’s.

With the invaluable assistance of Karl Tam’s moody photography, Barfuss Hui’s outstanding stream-of-consciousness editing, and a pulsating score by Joe Ng, Lee constructs a sweaty picture of people suffocating in an environment where elders have abandoned responsibilities, self-preservation seems to be the only rule and despair will consume those who cannot or refuse to adapt. But “G Affairs” does not abandon all hope. The beautifully composed final shot is open to any number of interpretations, including optimism and even joy.

BiFan Film Review: ‘G Affairs’

Reviewed at BiFan Film Festival (Bucheon Choice – competing), June 29, 2019. (Also in Hong Kong, Osaka, Taipei Golden Horse, Fantasia film festivals.) Running time: 105 MIN. (Original title: “G saat”)

Production: (Hong Kong) A Scout Pictures, Insight Prod., Midas Entertainment presentation of a G-Class production, with the support of Hong Kong Film Development Fund, Create Hong Kong. (International sales: Scout Pictures, Singapore.) Producers: Flora Goh, Titus Ho. Executive producers: Edwin Teo, Arthur Poh, Robert Li, Herman Yau.

Crew: Director: Lee Cheuk-pan. Screenplay: Kurt Chiang Chung-yu, based on a story by Lit Ka-wang. Camera (color, widescreen): Karl Tam. Editor: Barfuss Hui. Music: Joe Ng.

With: Hanna Chan, Chapman To, Huang Lu, Alan Luk, Kyle Li, Lam Sen. (Cantonese dialogue)

More Film

  • Mickey Rourke

    Mickey Rourke Joins Religious Drama 'Man of God'

    Pure Flix/Quality Flix has picked up international sales rights to religious drama “Man of God,” starring Mickey Rourke, Aris Servetalis and Alexander Petrov. The rights are for sale at the Berlin Film Festival. “Man of God,” directed and written by Yelena Popovic. Producers are Alexandros Potter and Yelena Popovic through their company Simeon Entertainment and [...]

  • Young Hunter

    'Young Hunter': Film Review

    Director-writer Marco Berger has been playing with same-sex seduction since his debut, “Plan B,” frequently pitching one confident gay man against a more closeted or curious conquest. Eleven years after that first feature, his latest, “Young Hunter,” continues to riff on the same theme, here exhibiting parallels with the entrapment scenario of 2011’s “Absent” in [...]

  • Kumail Nanjiani Stuber

    Film News Roundup: Kumail Nanjiani Boards Political Thriller 'The Independent'

    In today’s film news roundup, Kumail Nanjiani has been cast as a journalist, Daisy Ridley boards Imax’s “Asteroid Hunters,” “Best Summer Ever” leads off a festival, Shelley Duvall gets an honor and “Dark Harvest” lands at MGM. PROJECT LAUNCH Kumail Nanjiani will star in the political thriller “The Independent,” which is being introduced to buyers [...]

  • Balloon

    'Balloon': Film Review

    On paper, the plight of a pair of families fleeing 1979’s East Germany in a hot air balloon sounds like fabricated fodder for a spy novel. But as implausible as it sounds, this “The Mysterious Island”-esque grand escape from Deutschland’s then walled-in, oppressive slice really did happen. And nearly four decades after being the subject [...]

  • J.D. Dillard Star Wars

    New 'Star Wars' Movie in Development With 'Sleight' Director, 'Luke Cage' Writer

    Lucasfilm is developing a new “Star Wars” feature film with “Sleight” writer-director J.D. Dillard and “Luke Cage” writer Matt Owens, Variety has confirmed. The project is still in its very early stages, and all further details — characters, location, time period within the “Star Wars” creative galaxy — remain a mystery. That includes whether Dillard would [...]

  • Foster Boy

    Shaquille O'Neal on Why Foster Care Is the Great Untold Story

    It’s no secret that I have suffered some losses lately. For better or worse, my pain and grief are public. But I understand the opportunity to face the pain, learn from it, and model a behavior. I wouldn’t want it any other way. But there are hundreds of thousands of kids across the U.S. — [...]

  • Emerald Run

    'Emerald Run': Film Review

    “Emerald Run” is one of the weirdest hodgepodges to make its way to theater screens and digital platforms in quite some time. Unfortunately, oddness is just about the only thing this muddled little indie has going for it. Despite the game efforts of lead actor David Chokachi and attractive lensing by DP Michael Caradonna, the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content