| The Girl of the Big House stars Angela Wang Shi-Ling, a mainland child actress made popular by the Chinese reality television show Where Are We Going, Dad?. Wang plays Bowie, the girl of the eponymous big house, which is a mansion that looks more like a Disney castle. That’s perhaps no small coincidence given that 2016 saw the opening of the Shanghai Disneyland theme park.
Put simply, Bowie’s parents are wealthy. Are they “One percenter” wealthy? Yes, that’s very likely. One long shot establishes an immaculate breakfast table full of dishes, laid out for only Bowie, which she then declines. Her nanny, played by Yuen Qiu, is on hand, but her parents, played by headliners Miriam Yeung and Francis Ng, spend much of the movie off screen doing whatever it is they do to make the big bucks. Bowie’s playroom features a long sofa that is made entirely out of teddy bears, and she owns a robot (more on it later). Bowie wants for nothing, but living in the big house has kept her fairly sheltered and with few friends.
The crux of the plot arrives in the form of Uncle Dave (also played by Francis Ng). who returns from a short term incarceration. He’s looking for a valuable painting that was left to him by his parents, but was taken by Bowie’s dad. To help retrieve his legacy, he teams up with a local group of kidnappers in an effort to kidnap Bowie, but this group of ne’er-do-wells runs afoul of some street smart kids (led by Hong Kong child actress Jaqueline Chan Pui-Yin) who quickly befriend Bowie and decide to help her out.
From here the film provides Home Alone-style hijinks pitting the kids against the baddies inside the big house. The filmmakers return to other familiar, arguably overused material, including Yuen Qiu playing off her famous Kung Fu Hustle landlady role, plenty of slapstick physical comedy, and (as previously mentioned) a sentient robot that would feel right at home in a children’s anime. It’s worth pointing out that along with From Vegas to Macau II, this is the second time the filmmakers have used both Angela Wang and an intelligent robot in a film together. Maybe this pairing is a formula for success. If so, the filmmakers know something we don't.
Notable cameos by Jim Chim Sui-Man, as the over-stylized gang leader, and Lo Fan, as one of the kidnappers, provide some mild entertainment, but one needs to remember that Girl of the Big House is a movie directed at a younger audience and the humor tends to be more juvenile than cerebral. Given his dual role, Francis Ng has considerably more screen time than his co-star Miriam Yeung, and he has a bit of fun with the role of Uncle Dave.
Despite some of the slapstick violence and a few scary moments with a gun, Girl of the Big House is fairly family-friendly and is unlikely to be found objectionable. By the end, the narrative tries to elicit a deeper moral message about using excess (Bowie’s parents giving her material wealth) to offset abandonment (they neglect her for their work). But this message is constantly overshadowed by the many on-screen displays of wealth, which culminate in the final act with an extravagant birthday party for Bowie hosted by Cantopop group Grasshopper. Parents might want to check their children’s expectations at the door. (Paul Fox, 12/2016)