Get your mind out of the gutter. The title of Ronald
Cheng's latest film, Mr. 3 Minutes, has nothing
to do with his sexual prowess. Instead, it's a reference
to the Japanese icon Ultraman, who can only exist on
Earth for three minutes before having to return to his
human host. The connection to this film? Well, Scott
Chung (Cheng) is supposedly a lucky fellow who makes
all his decisions in just three minutes. How that exactly
relates to Ultraman is still questionable, but let's
pretend the connection isn't paper-thin and buy in.
Anyway, the supposed result of Scott's three-minute powers is
his current fortunate lot in life. He's the successful owner of
a bridal boutique, and is also renowned as a premier
playboy on the upscale clubbing circuit. However, this
supposedly hedonistic, self-involved individual receives
an unwelcome surprise. At his latest bridal fashion
exhibition (which involves all the brides wearing bikinis),
Scott meets 10 year-old Wayne (Au Ka-Hing), who he thinks
is a pickpocket. He's wrong; much to the avowed bachelor's
shock and surprise, Wayne is actually Scott's son.
Well, that's what Wayne says.
It's pretty much Wayne's word against nobody's, and
Scott and his right-hand woman Jo (Teresa Mo) commission
a DNA test right away. However, they have to wait two
weeks for the results, which means plenty of time for
hijinks and manufactured events masquerading as character
development. Wayne takes Scott and Jo to visit his mom,
who's pushing up daises at the graveyard, making it
hard for Scott to get a face-to-face confirmation of
the mother's identity. Obviously, however, the kid had
to be living somewhere before, so Scott hires a private
dick to shadow Wayne, eventually discovering the kid's
current next-of-kin: his aunt, Yuk (Cherrie Ying).
should probably be punished for leaving Wayne with a
bastard like Scott, but she really needed a break from
Wayne, as she holds two jobs and has a nonexistent social
life despite looking just like Cherrie Ying. Also, Wayne's
mother originally wanted Wayne to be brought up by his
father, so Yuk gladly obliged by sending Wayne packing
to his crappy dad. The lesson here: even being a lousy
guardian can be justified in the movies.
The problem is Scott hates
kids. At least, that's what the ad copy says, and Ronald
Cheng seems to nominally inhabit that role for about
fifteen minutes. The height of Scott's cruelty towards
kids seems to be telling Wayne that he can't play with
his collection of toys, and also attempting to parent
Wayne in 3 minutes a day - which, given the whole 3
minute premise, is probably what the screenwriters suppose
that Ultraman would do when faced with surprise offspring.
But, in a narrative move that's surprising only to those
who've never seen a movie before, Scott grows into the
parent role. He befriends Wayne and even tries to help
out the sometimes-hostile Yuk. He even dumps his womanizing
ways for something resembling warm-and-fuzzy sensitivity.
Basically, Scott grows from materialistic, womanizing
jerk into an all-around swell guy, leading to smiles
all around and an inspirational message for us would-be
Scotts. Message to the screenwriters from the would-be
Scott club: thanks for the empathy!
Unfortunately, it's hard to
buy that Scott is a womanizing jerk because he sure
as heck doesn't seem like one. Scott is supposed to
be a naughty fellow who thinks only for himself, but
the moments that detail this are few and far between.
The most evidence we get of Scott's crappy character
is him sitting around talking about chasing tail or
being a jerk, instead of actually demonstrating this
actively. Ultimately, Scott comes off more like a big-talking
dope than the active horndog he's reputed to be.
Scott is really supposed to be a nice guy and not a
creep, then Ronald Cheng nails the character from minute
one. Aside from not seeming like a womanizing playboy,
Ronald Cheng doesn't portray Scott as someone the audience
should feel scorn for. He simply seems like a nice guy,
such that his ultimate "good father" act is
easily believable and sometimes even affecting. Cheng's
comic acting can sometimes be a bit much, but he does
have a certain charisma, and he can frequently find
the emotions behind his characters' annoying attitudes.
In Fatal Contact, Cheng gave his wacky sidekick
role hidden depth, and likewise he seems to bring more
to Mr. 3 Minutes than the script truly provides.
However, that thumbs up to
Ronald Cheng comes with a collective slam against the
screenwriters. The writers - and there are five credited
here - provide plenty for words, themes, and ideas
for Mr. 3 Minutes, but not much of it really
convinces. For one thing, Scott's character arc seems
to be only nominal, and not something that really occurs
in the film, as the character itself becomes too nice
too early. Also, Ronald Cheng, despite turning in a
surprisingly effective performance, seems miscast as
someone who's supposed to be a womanizing playboy. Wayne
seems too wise for his years, and Au Ka-Hing plays him
in a rather unrealistic manner.
The plot also unfolds
unnaturally, cramming way too much into just two weeks.
Worst of all, the film dips into maudlin and hackneyed
sentimentality with a third act plot twist that attempts
to add pathos to a film that probably required little.
The plot twist happens to be overused (especially in
Asian films), and also occurs too late in the film for
proper development. The icing on this uneven, soggy
cake is a post-credits coda that pretty much undoes
whatever poignancy the filmmakers were trying for with
their attempted tearjerker ending. Message to filmmakers
everywhere: when you try to challenge your audience
by subverting their expectations, please stay the course.
Pulling into reverse - even after the credits - just
makes it seem like nobody behind the scenes has any
Before he became king
of semi-authentic action (e.g., The Final Option or First Option), Gordon Chan was once famous
for his yuppie comedies, which mixed trite observations
on urban life with manufactured sentiment and awkward
existentialism. Despite that negative description, the
mixture did work back then, as Hong Kong Cinema was
messier and sloppier than it currently is, and Chan's
attention to solid filmmaking technique (i.e., he wasn't
a hack like many of his contemporaries) made him a quality
filmmaker when Hong Kong had precious few. Mr. 3
Minutes seems cut from that same cloth, but times
have changed, and perhaps Hong Kong Cinema needs more
than movies that just seem like they're well-made. They
could use consistent characterization and original storylines,
not obvious plot devices and undue existentialism. As
a director, Gordon Chan is capable of telling these
stories, and Ronald Cheng would probably do fine as
the lead actor. Which means pretty much one thing: Hong
Kong Cinema needs better screenwriters. (Kozo 2007)