|Producer Raymond Wong steals from himself for All's Well End's Well 2009, the latest in a series of Lunar New Year comedies aimed at separating the masses from their hard-earned dollars. Oh yeah, the films are supposed to be entertaining too. All's Well End's Well 2009 takes its cue from 1992's All's Well End's Well starring Leslie Cheung and Stephen Chow - not only in title but in actual content. Besides featuring the standard character setup (three guys, three girls, a set of parents), All's Well Ends Well 2009 references the earlier films and even lifts whole gags from the original. Nostalgic audiences who catch All's Well End's Well every year on TV should get a kick out of Wong's regurgitation, but everyone else? Perhaps mildly amused if not completely uninterested. Your tolerance of star-driven screwball antics could determine everything.
Enjoyment may also depend on how you feel about the stars in question, as the loaded cast presents both positives and negatives. First, the positives: Sandra Ng makes a welcome big screen return in the lead role, with Louis Koo and Ronald Cheng giving her solid star support. Cameos and walk-ons from a variety of familiar faces (e.g, Charlene Choi, Cheung Tat-Ming, Ken Lo, and even Donnie Yen) help too. The negatives: the two female leads besides Sandra Ng are the semi-known Yao Chen (from Big Movie) and the barely-known Miki Shen, who looks like an impossibly more cheerful version of Elanne Kong. Also, producer Raymond Wong takes a large role, which could be considered an empirical negative if one were attempting to judge this movie as an actual quality film.
However, if someone chose to watch this movie for reasons of quality, they would be misinformed or insane. Like most Lunar New Year comedies, All's Well End's Well 2009 is intended to be silly and stupid, attempting laughs through paper-thin situations, big stars acting like loons, and Cantonese-specific gags. The film fulfills the "paper-thin situations" requirement handily, offering a loaded plot about famous writer Yu Chu (Sandra Ng) and her wimpy younger brother Yu Bo (Ronald Cheng). Some unknown curse stipulates that Yu Bo will be unlucky in love until his sister marries - but that's probably not going to happen because Yu Chu is too strong and insufferable to make a desirable girlfriend. The curse causes Yu Bo's girlfriends to get injured or maimed in freak accidents, so ending the curse would seem to be a good thing. However, Yu Chu is unaware or uncaring of her brother's plight, preferring to loudly continue on the path to spinsterhood.
Enter Dick Tso (Louis Koo), a "love doctor" who uses his killer looks to woo women before dumping them and somehow healing their hearts in the process. Dick also possesses mad hypnotism skills, which he uses on people if his prodigious charm and tanned visage aren't working. Yes, none of this makes sense – but hey, it’s a Lunar New Year movie so roll with it or suffer the consequences. Dick romances Yu Chu on Yu Bo's request, and she gets giddy for her rented boy toy. However, things get messy when Dick takes a trip to Mainland China and falls for the super-sweet Mandy (Miki Shen). Yu Chu soon follows with her parents (Ha Chun-Chau and Lee Heung-Kam) in tow, leading to a sitcom conflict you can see a mile away. Also, we meet L (Raymond Wong), a private detective who looks nothing like Kenichi Matsuyama and pretends to be Yu Chu’s boyfriend in order to add another sitcom cliché to the mess. Finally, Yu Bo falls in love with homely Bucktooth Jane (Yao Chen), but since Yu Chu is not yet hitched, that pesky curse may be active. All this plus heavy product placement for Happy Online, an online game you might play if you're bored out of your mind. Presumably, it has a better story than this movie.
But again, story isn't the main concern here, as the thin narrative only exists to string together random gags and onscreen ads. Raymond Wong worked overtime getting product placement for his movie; aside from the references to Happy Online, (including one where Happy Online's awesome CEO heroically hands out raises to his staff despite the poor economy), the film takes time to push Qiandao Lake, a tourist spot in Hangzhou. The area's picturesque views and tourist activities are given attention, and while the advertising makes for nice travel planning, it doesn't actually help the film. Also, the cast and locations negate one of the movie's biggest draws: its Hong Kong flavor. All's Well End's Well 2009 is an attempt to bring back the successful Cantonese comedy formula of the 1992 original, but the Mainland focus makes the whole thing feel oddly foreign. Usually, the all-star cast and familiar gags and situations would compensate, but All's Well End's Well 2009 doesn't really deliver there, either.
Still, the stars do help - that is, the ones who are famous. It's nice to see Sandra Ng back and her comedic chops are obvious even when she's assaulting the audience with them full force. Louis Koo and Ronald Cheng complement each other well; Koo handles comedy better than his dashing ladykiller image would imply, while usual comedian Cheng is a surprisingly good dramatic actor. Both act like loons, and since this formula is largely dependent on big stars acting like loons, that's a total plus. Too bad the jokes themselves are not that great. Director Vincent Kok is a veteran of too many thin all-star comedies to name, and his work here is solid in its competent blandness. The film chugs along amiably, serving up the occasional clever gag along with some laughs, groans and moments of total silence - and it's all harmless enough that giving it a pass is rather easy. Again, familiarity with the original is a plus, as some jokes are lifted wholesale, and the constant game of "spot the star" can be diverting. At the very least, the film isn't insulting.
That is, except for the film's one running gag. Whenever a character falls in love, they act woozy and start spinning around in a dopey fashion while tinkly music plays on the soundtrack. The first time it happens, Yu Chu performs an energetic and amusing Singin' in the Rain parody, but after that the gag never really varies, nor is it actually funny. Eventually, the entire cast gets to perform the "dizzy with love" dance, and what was once cute and harmless becomes cringe worthy. At the film's climax, Raymond Wong is the one spinning like a dope, and by then the joke has long worn out its welcome. Picking on a single running gag may seem mean, but its repeated and insipid use only makes the filmmakers seem lazy. Frankly, Vincent Kok is better than that, and audiences deserve more, too. All's Well End's Well 2009 will undoubtedly earn some affection for its familiarity, but the execution is exceptionally uninspired. Hong Kong Cinema needs more than recycled movie formulas or nostalgia to really move forward. Some actual originality or creativity would be a good start. (Kozo 2009)