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Simply Actors

     

(left) Charlene Choi acts out, and (right) Jim Chim and Charlene Choi.

Chinese: 戲王之王  
Year: 2007  
Director: Chan Hing-Kai, Patrick Leung Pak-Kin
Producer Chan Hing-Kai, Amy Chin Siu-Wai
Cast: Jim Chim Sui-Man, Charlene Choi Cheuk-Yin, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Eric Tsang Chi-Wai, Sandra Ng Kwun-Yu, Chapman To Man-Chat, Sammy, Josie Ho Chiu-Yi, Isabella Leong, Patrick Tam Yiu-Man, Lawrence Cheng Tan-Shui, Fiona Sit Hoi-Kei, Jo Koo, Wong Yau-Nam, Tsui Tin-Yau, Derek Tsang Kwok-Cheung, Ann Hui On-Wah, Alan Mak Siu-Fai, Fruit Chan Gor, Vincent Kok Tak-Chiu, Wilson Yip Wai-Shun, Hui Siu-Hung, Michelle Ye, Raymond Wong Ho-Yin, Tony Ho Wah-Chiu, Lam Suet, Leung Tin, Ha Chun-Chau, Harriet Yeung Sze-Man, Chan Suk-Yi, Yeung Si-Man, Siu Mei-Kwun, Chan Fai-Hung, Tin Kai-Man, Teddy Lin Chun, Wong Siu-Yin, Yuen Ka-Yee, Victor Chan Si-Hong, Lok Kin-Chi, Kimi, Yeung Siu-Wo, Ma Choi, Lee Chi-Kei
The Skinny: Interminable. While possessing an amusing premise and decent actors, Simply Actors derails heavily when it tries to mix comedy with drama, and before long starts to get aggravating. The result is an overlong, unconvincing movie that refuses to end when it should. At least Charlene Choi is good.
 
Review
by Kozo:

Prepare for annoyance. Directed by Chan Hing-Ka and Patrick Leung, Simply Actors looks like it should be a winner, but by the time it's all over, any positive anticipation has been replaced by impatient frustration, if not possible anger. Yes, this movie is that aggravating. Simply Actors has a winning concept, some decent actors, and more star cameos than any film truly needs. However, it also has too much dialogue, too many characters, and too much time on its hands, resulting in a meandering, labored experience that proves interminable. The film possesses a point that's unconvincing and even pretentious, and few of the characters really engage beyond the most superficial level. Not even a fun turn from Charlene Choi, who sports a fake set of D-cup breasts in the film, is enough to save this one. Our disappointment is proportionately large.

Simply Actors stars popular Hong Kong funnyman Jim Chim Sui-Man, who's probably best known overseas for his pronounced overacting in everything from Driving Miss Wealthy to The Twins Effect II to Mighty Baby. Chim is famous in Hong Kong for his one-man stage performances, where he manages to entertain the masses in that inimitable Cantonese way that non-Hong Kong people may never truly understand. His initial appearances in Hong Kong film were usually more annoying than anything else, a problem that was exacerbated by the sheer amount of projects he took on. However, after the initial rough going, Chim has since become a familiar and even welcome screen presence, with his work in AV and McDull, The Alumni qualifying as highlights. Simply Actors is the first time audiences have been given a full-on Chim starring role, and the actor is apparently quite game.

Unfortunately, he's also misguided. From minute one, Chim puts on an overacting clinic that's one for the ages. When he first meet Chan Man-Long (Chim), he's a wacky policeman who puts on a pretend panda show for an adorable tyke visiting the police station. The scene drags on for too long before duty finally calls, and Man-Long races to the crime scene along with his fellow cops. However, Man-Long's appearance on the scene involves wearing crappy hip cop duds, and pretending to act in slow motion like some sort of supercool movie cop. Obviously, the other cops won't stand for his innane antics, but his chief (Hui Siu-Hung) has a fine idea: enroll Man-Long in acting classes. Apparently, an undercover cop named Yan (shades of Infernal Affairs) has been offed by a mob boss called Crazy Sam (Chapman To, doing a blazingly annoying impression of Eric Tsang), who left the message "crap acting" on the dead body. The cops think they may need to send their cops to acting school to avoid future detection, and plan to use Man-Long as a test case.

Man-Long is only too happy to sign up, because he's always wanted to be an actor. The problem: Man-Long overacts in class too, meaning everyone else at least attempts seriousness while he's too busy acting like an idiot. Many in the class dislike him for his annoying antics, but not new classmate Dani Dan (Charlene Choi). Dani is a Category III softcore actress who wants to better her craft, and Choi plays her as a cheerful parody of Shu Qi, mixing up her Mandarin and Cantonese, and skewering both with a botched accent. Somehow Dani and Man-Long form a friendship, while the truth slowly starts to dawn on Man-Long that he's a crappy overactor. This occurs at about the same time that his relationship with longtime girlfriend Michelle Ye starts to collapse, leading to the expected existential musings about "who am I, and how did I get here", which we discover in an extended heart-to-heart conversation between Man-Long and Dani. The moment is a key one, because it finally gets us inside the core of its lead characters.

However, the moment is also key for the audience, because it's at that exact moment that IT ALL GOES TO HELL. Previous to the characters starting their soul-searching, Simply Actors deals up a decent comedy premise, and offers plenty of amusing observations about the pretentiousness of acting school and how a screwy wackjob like Man-Long can disrupt it by acting like a loon. The problem is that Man-Long is so out there that it's tough to sympathize with him when the film eventually asks us to. The film's comedy is largely uneven, but sometimes it works surprisingly well. A softcore film shoot (starring Dani Dan and Man-Long, with DJ Sammy as the director) is especially amusing, if only because it's Charlene Choi pretending to act lustful. But it's just funny screwiness, and doesn't really endear the character of Man-Long to the audience. We may like him because he's popular actor Jim Chim Sui-Man, but the character of Chan Man-Long? Balls to the wall annoying. To be honest, after a good hour of his out-of-control antics, the character should be smacked around for being so out-of-touch with reality.

Man-Long does eventually get back in touch with reality, but even then it's hard to buy, because it's Jim Chim Sui-Man only slightly overacting instead of completely overacting. Man-Long realizes his current life is crap, and after the umpteenth embarrassing display of overacting, finally thinks about giving up the acting bug. However, Man-Long finds true inspiration from a janitor (Anthony Wong), who claims that acting school is full of failed wannabe actors, and proceeds to show Man-Long where to find better acting lessons. The two take to Causeway Bay to find real acting on the streets, and the sequence has some initial interest thanks to the Shakespeare-spouting Wong, and numerous name cameos (Josie Ho, Sandra Ng, Lawrence Cheng, Isabella Leong, among others). Basically, the two observe people acting in their daily lives, with running commentary from Wong about the genius of these people putting on a show in the big, bad world. The message here is that pretentious acting classes blow, and only by wading into real life can one get in touch with the true soul of performance. Or something. Oddly, these new acting lessons may be more pretentious than the ones they're lampooning. Is this why we stuck around for an hour-and-a-half? For a lesson in bohemian acting theory?

Truthfully, the film's "acting craft" lesson is intriguing and even intelligent, but the film takes far too long to get there, and compounds the problem by plodding on for an additional thirty minutes. Simply Actors is exceptionally long for a Hong Kong film (nearly two hours), which wouldn't be so bad if the scenes weren't so extended in length. Every time a new scene appears it's generally very, very long, possessing lots of dialogue and a momentum-killing pace. There seems to be no momentum in the film, with each scene taking so long that the film seems to last forever. New characters keep appearing, adding little to the already bloated cast of older ones, and the film seems to drift farther and farther from its original cop comedy premise. By the time the labored climax rolls around, the players and the situations may not matter to the audience anymore. And after the climax there's still fifteen minutes of only semi-amusing wrap-up remaining. Watching Simply Actors is akin to watching your wallpaper slowly peel away. It isn't just boring, it's maddening.

Simply Actors can still be enjoyed with a fast-forward button, as the viewer then has the option of skipping the slow or annoying scenes to get to the amusing or clever ones. Also, the parade of name actors helps, and despite overdoing it most of the time, Jim Chim can actually act. Charlene Choi's performance is also worth checking out, as she attempts far more than her Twins-required cuteness, and surprisingly suceeds. Her innocently provocative performance is one of the film's genuine bright spots. Those minor joys give the film more cred than, say, Super Fans, though that accomplishment is hardly worth mentioning. As disappointments go, Simply Actors ranks up there because it attempts both dumb laughs and intelligent commentary, and doesn't really succeed at either. Writer and co-director Chan Hing-Kai is no stranger to overwritten comedies, having loaded umpteen films (like the La Brassiere movies, also co-directed by Patrick Leung) with his clever musings since the new millennium began. His efforts have yielded some solid yuks, but his pseudo-intellectual comedy has usually been more smug than successful. Basically, Chan needs a new trick, like perhaps returning to cop-and-criminal dramas (he co-wrote A Better Tomorrow plus all those Gordon Chan "Option" movies), or simply hiring a stronger director to handle his screenplays. He's still got some ideas in his tank, which the decent premise of Simply Actors demonstrates. But execution? Maybe someone else should handle that. (Kozo 2007)

 
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Panorama Entertainment
2-Disc Set
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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