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Hong Kong Playboys

Cherie Chung and Alexander Fu in Hong Kong Playboys.

Year: 1983
Director: Wong Jing  
Producer: Run Run Shaw, Lawrence Wong Ha-Kee  
Writer: Wong Jing  
Action: Yuen Bun  
Cast: Alexander Fu Sheng, Patrick Tse Yin, Nat Chan Bak-Cheung, Cherie Chung Chor-Hung, Chien Hui-Yi, Yu Mo-Lin, Leanne Lau Suet-Wa, Lee Heung-Kam, Fong Ping, Chan Laap-Ban, Lam Fai-Wong, Lau Yat-Fan, Shih Kien, Tam Tin-Nam, To Siu-Ming, Chiang Kam, Wan Seung-Lam, Lam Chi-Tai, Law Ho-Kai, Ngai Tim-Choi
The Skinny: From depths of the Shaw vault comes this wacky Wong Jing-directed romantic comedy that proves without a shadow of a doubt that not all Shaw Brothers films are guaranteed cinematic masterpieces. It's innocuous fluff at best, featuring Alexander Fu Sheng in one of his final roles.
Review by
     When Celestial Pictures announced their plans to re-release a multitude of titles from the Shaw Brothers film library, Hong Kong cinema fans rejoiced at the prospect of seeing some of the most beloved films in history restored to their former glory. And considering the enormous amount of movies that have been locked away for years, some fans probably hoped that some heretofore-lost classics would be unearthed. Though perhaps lost, the 1983 comedy Hong Kong Playboys is by no means a classic. It's wacky, nonsensical, and not really that funny. Is it any surprise that it's directed by Wong Jing?
     The movie's plot (or what passes for one) revolves around Sheng (Alexander Fu Sheng), a swinging lothario with an incorrigible "love 'em and leave 'em" attitude. As smooth as Sheng pretends to be, he's no match for his nemesis Valentine (Patrick Tse) who exudes an unquestionable sense of style and class that Sheng can only dream of having. Then there's Lolanto (Nat Chan Bak-Cheung), a somewhat likeable loser who needs to land a wealthy wife to save his father's failing company, a mission that puts him at odds with the ever skirt-chasing Sheng. To further complicate matters, Sheng's mother shows up from Canada with her personal nurse Ah Mei (Cherie Chung Chor-Hung) in tow. And though a relationship seems to blossom with the straitlaced, bespectacled Ah Mei, the hotheaded Sheng abandons that potential love affair and instead competes with Valentine and Lolanto for the hand of the beautiful Mao Ying-Ying (Chin Wai-Yee), the wealthy daughter of a powerful triad boss (Shih Kien). After a series of madcap antics, Ying-Ying accepts Sheng's proposal, but will our hero actually go through with the marriage or follow his heart instead? If you've seen just one romantic comedy in your lifetime, I think you know the answer to that one.
     Despite the Shaw Brothers pedigree, there's really not much going for this cornball movie. The film's only real claim to fame is the fact that it features one of the last performances by Alexander Fu Sheng, a Shaw star whose life was tragically cut short in a car accident while filming Eight Diagram Pole Fighter. Sadly, the film isn't a fitting capper for the man's career. Fu Sheng does his best in a thankless, poorly conceived role, and only seems truly comfortable during the brief—and ludicrous—martial arts sequence towards the film's climax. When Fu Sheng faces off against a street hockey team from hell (yeah, that what I said), he's in full hero mode, something he's unable to do for most of the picture thanks to his character's shady persona.
     As the lead female character, Cherie Chung performs well, but the burgeoning relationship between Ah Mei and Sheng is poorly developed. There's a brief bit of chemistry between the stars midway through the film, but since that angle is abandoned almost as soon as it begins, there isn't much of a payoff in seeing the two finally get together. In other words, without the buildup of a genuine, protracted chemistry between Ah Mei and Sheng, the prospect of the two reuniting doesn't feel like a logical extension of what's happening in the story, but instead comes across as yet another artificial happy ending. Consequently, it feels like Ah Mei and Sheng get together because that's what the formula for romantic comedy requires. Rather than becoming real people that the audience can root for, the two characters amount to little more than pawns pushed this way and that at Wong Jing's discretion.
     So, with Fu Sheng trapped in unsympathetic role and the primary romantic relationship left underdeveloped, it falls on the supporting performers to salvage this uneven film from total disaster. And surprisingly, they do. Amazingly, Nat Chan Bak-Cheung does not annoy in his role as Lolanto, if for no other reason than it's made clear that underneath his goofy, often sleazy exterior exists a poor shlub with a heart of gold. Additionally, Shih Kien is another bright spot in the film, imbuing both a sense of humor and definite menace to his role as the father of the bride. Even the casting of Patrick Tse as billionaire playboy Valentine works. Although it's difficult for me to comprehend how a middle-aged man with HUGE glasses equals instant Hong Kong lady-killer, I have to admit that Tse pulls it off rather well. Oddly enough, Valentine becomes a mentor of sorts to both Sheng and Lolanto and actually turns out to be the moral center of the movie—a sort of Don Juan meets Yoda, if you will. But despite all these fun comic turns, nothing saves the film from mediocrity.
     Ultimately, Hong Kong Playboys isn't a terrible picture thanks to the actors involved, but with a better script, the film could have been a classic of the genre rather than just another in the ever mounting junk pile of wacky, yet forgettable Hong Kong comedies. For some, the performances will be enough to make the film a passably entertaining experience. But for others, the horrible "Miami Vice" fashions, the ridiculous eighties hairdos, and the repetitive synth-pop soundtrack will be reason enough to regard Hong Kong Playboys as one ancient relic that perhaps should have stayed buried. (Calvin McMillin 2003)
Availability: DVD (HK)
Region 3 NTSC
Intercontinental Video Limited (IVL)
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Removable English, Chinese, and Bahasa Subtitles
Trailers, Color Stills, Original Poster, Production Notes, Cast/Crew Information

image courtesy of Celestial Pictures

back to top  Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen