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My Name is Fame

Lau Ching-Wan and Huo Siyan discuss acting in My Name is Fame.
Chinese: 我要成名  
Year: 2006
Director: Lawrence Lau Kwok-Cheung
Writer: James Yuen Sai-Sang, Jessica Fong Ching, Law Yiu-Fai
Cast: Lau Ching-Wan, Huo Siyan, Candace Yu On-On, Lai Yiu-Cheung, Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Fiona Sit Hoi-Kei, Fruit Chan Gor, Derek Tsang Kwok-Cheung, Niki Chow Lai-Kei, Guk Fung, Elena Kong Mei-Yi, Samson Chiu Leung-Chun, Stephen Tung Wai, Henry Fong Ping, Gordon Chan Car-Seung, Ann Hui On-Wah, Jo Koo, Lau Dan, Calvin Choi Yat-Chi, Edmond So Chi-Wai, Remus Choi Yat-Kit, Jamie Luk Kin-Ming, Vincent Tsui, Jimmy Wan Chi-Man
The Skinny: Though a bit lacking in sordid realism, My Name is Fame is a fun portrait of the local film industry, and more entertaining and intelligent than the usual HK Cinema fare. One of 2006's better films thus far.
by Kozo:

Lau Ching-Wan lampoons himself in director Lawrence Lau's entertaining comedy-drama My Name is Fame. The actor takes on a delightfully juicy role that simultaneously skewers and reveres his career, which is notable for being highly-regarded and virtually unrewarded (to date, Lau has never won a Hong Kong Film Award). In My Name is Fame, Lau plays Poon Ka-Fai, a supporting actor/bit player type who possesses an intense appreciation and devotion to the craft of acting. Poon is so focused on quality that he regularly dispenses fiery, sometimes abusive advice to crew members and other actors in the middle of shoots - a habit that rightfully pisses off his colleagues. After years of berating his peers and bitching about the crappy state of the entertainment industry, Poon is experiencing a serious career slide. He's fallen off the casting wagon, and is even recalled in the past tense by more than a few industry players.

Enter Faye Ng (newcomer Huo Siyan), neophyte actress and Poon Ka-Fai groupie, who attaches herself to the aging actor despite his none-too-subtle instructions to buzz off. Ka-Fai seems to have no interest in Faye's fannish attitudes, but after seeing her attempt to act, Ka-Fai takes her under his wing. He teaches her acting craft and technique, and soon discovers that she may just have a knack for the biz. She quickly ascends from bit player to stuntwoman to in-demand flavor of the month. Meanwhile, Ka-Fai finds himself becoming enamored of his younger protégé, though the emotion is subtle at first. When Faye gets a shot at a bigtime Hong Kong film that requires her to disrobe, Ka-Fai puts his emotions out there. Will Faye and Ka-Fai find everlasting love with one another? Or will she rise to unprecedented success, leaving him a bitter shell of a man? And haven't we seen this movie before?

We probably have, because the story of an aging entertainer who takes a female protégé/lover under his wing is tried-and-true cinema stuff. The most famous variation is undoubtedly the 1937 US film A Star is Born and its numerous remakes, though My Name is Fame doesn't approach the intense emotions of those films. As Faye's star rises, one would expect Ka-Fai's to continue descending, to the point that his bitter downward spiral becomes a tragic crash. That's not what happens here; My Name is Fame goes the uplifting route, with Ka-Fai choosing to reapply himself instead of becoming a self-absorbed mess. He sobers up from his mild drinking habit and starts offering constructive instead of abrasive criticism. It's more of a 120-degree turn than a complete 180, but the character's change is felt. The fact that it's Lau Ching-Wan playing the role only makes it better.

A closer comparison to My Name is Fame than A Star is Born is probably the 1999 Stephen Chow film King of Comedy. In that film, Stephen Chow's character Wan Tin-Sau managed to find purpose through a fervent, even obsessive dedication to acting. In Chow's film, acting brought Wan Tin-Sau respect, love, and even relative success - after a series of parodies and wacky screwball jokes, of course. My Name is Fame goes a similar, though completely non-wacky route, drilling home the point that if we try hard on our chosen path, then we'll most definitely succeed one day. It's a nice lesson, and one that really carries weight in the film. After all, it's drilled home in multiple loaded conversations, including one between Poon Ka-Fai and Leung Ka-Fai (as in Tony Leung Ka-Fai), who reminds Ka-Fai (Poon not Leung) that dedication will pay off. A veteran of more than one career slide, Tony Leung Ka-Fai - who incidentally is the most recent recipient of a Best Actor Hong Kong Film Award - should know the value of dedication.

The audience should know too, because that lesson could qualify as a key point in Hackneyed Screenwriting 101. Using a disarmingly effervescent young thing as the catalyst for Ka-Fai's transformation qualifies as even more hackneyed writing, but My Name is Fame manages to sidestep most of the obvious clichés. The screenwriters (including the ever-prolific James Yuen) don't delve too far into bitter emotion; Ka-Fai may be on the downside of his career, but his bitterness only manifests itself as a chronic crankiness and not an exaggerated spiral of self-destruction.

The filmmakers don't play up the older guy-younger girl thing either. The romance between Faye and Ka-Fai seems to develop more in the background than the foreground, and manifests itself in a refreshingly natural way. Instead of being concerned with the romance, the filmmakers spend all their time talking about the movies. The Hong Kong film industry is given a gentle needling, with references to the Cookies, Lau Ching-Wan's former jobs (including his voice-over work for the Cantonese version of Pixar's Toy Story, and his turn as a tanned Filipino impostor in Driving Miss Wealthy), and all manner of HK Cinema luminaries. Ekin Cheng, Fiona Sit, Niki Chow, and others make token appearances as themselves. The likely audience response is probably to marvel at all the unnecessary namedropping.

But the namedropping pays off. Director Lawrence Lau (AKA Lawrence Ah Mon) gives the film industry generous focus, spending plenty of screentime time on the joys of moviemaking. Much time in My Name is Fame is spent merely watching actors, directors (including Gordon Chan and Ann Hui), crew members, and even stunt coordinators collaborating. Frequent moviemaking montages show up, and they prove to be fascinating and affectionate of their subject matter. Lau Ching-Wan is perfect for this movie; he's a solid leading man who's got charisma and talent to spare - but somehow he always loses out to peaking prettyboys or edgier actors who chew up the scenery. In some ways, Lau Ching-Wan plays himself in My Name is Fame, and he does so with considerable self-effacing charm. He also creates a fine rapport with the lovely and expressive Huo Siyan, who impresses as the starstruck Faye. The abundance of cameos by familiar Hong Kong faces helps too. It may be a little unnecessary, but it's always fun to spot the stars.

If any complaint could be directed at My Name is Fame it's that the film is perhaps a little too warm and fuzzy. Show business is filled with ugliness and ugly people (just check out the recent Gillian Chung/Easy Finder feud if you want an eyeful), but My Name is Fame seems to be a story with only one direction: up. The characters work harder, they achieve greater success, and the ugliness and ugly people in the biz barely make an appearance. The story of Poon Ka-Fai and Faye Ng may seem like it should be going the Star is Born route, but the filmmakers go easy on the audience, sending us in a direction that, if it isn't really "feel good", is at least "feel better". The truly bad stuff in the industry gets only minor acknowledgment, while the good stuff - recognition, respect, sane human beings - seems to be everywhere.

The script's lack of disclosure feels slightly disingenuous, but the overall film is never anything less than enjoyable. My Name is Fame succeeds handily as a valentine to the movie business, and finds much to celebrate in the local industry's rushed productions, ensemble casts, and blue-collar work ethic. Acting and filmmaking are presented here as hard work that will pay off if one remembers to stay dedicated and respectful of others. Screw pessimism - at the end of this rainbow there's a pot of gold, or at least a stack of good reviews and possibly a Hong Kong Film Award waiting for whoever gives it their all. A lesson this earnest may be too nice for righteous truth-seeking audiences, but in these dark Hong Kong Cinema days, positive thinking can only help. Good movies would help, too. Thankfully, My Name is Fame qualifies. (Kozo 2006)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Joy Sales Film and Video Distributors
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various Extras
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images courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen