If Trick or Cheat has a lesson, it certainly isn’t a moral one. Brought to you by the same people who unleashed See You in You Tube on unsuspecting audiences – producer Oxide Pang and the seven-person directing team "Seven's" - Trick or Cheat basically does the same thing as their previous film to less interesting or inspired effect. The filmmakers hire some promising young stars and that Siu Fei guy, place them in a high concept situation ripe for satire and gags, and then proceed to submarine the whole thing with lame romantic subplots and clichés about youth, life, love and probably the importance of hiring a good agent. One lesson that isn’t really dealt with: that cheating is wrong and should be punished with disdain from your peers, if not outright expulsion from school. Irresponsible youth may be served with Trick or Cheat, but little else is.
The high concept idea this time: a group of high schoolers are determined to put on a musical dance performance but the school threatens to scuttle their plans because their grades are the pits. The two leaders of the gang, William (William Chan, formerly of Sun Boy’z) and Gem (teen singer G.E.M.), are given a little over a month to whip the kids into academic shape – a virtual impossibility because of Hong Kong’s rigorous public examination system, which tests all over the spectrum.
But William and Gem have no intention of doing things the correct way, and instead introduce various new-fangled cheating methods to their squad. Among their cheating ways: high-frequency Morse code that’s only audible to those under 25 years of age, invisible ink that can only be seen under black light, and walkie talkies disguised as standard issue audio players used during listening exams. With all those tricks at their disposal, these morally questionable but still pretty damn cute kids should be able to make the grade. Right?
Trick of Cheat gets most of its laughs when it satirizes Hong Kong’s commercial education culture. Besides the cheating scenes – which reach their most hilarious and off-color during an over-the-top sequence where the kids use farting to communicate during a test – the film delivers a subplot about Seven Ko (Sam Wong), a celebrity tutor who engages in unsavory activities in order to provide his students with this year’s essay questions. The kids also hire a spirit medium (Karu Chan), who’ll arrange for the spirits of dead westerners to possess them so that they can pass the English oral exam.
The idea is inspired, and when the filmmakers take satirical jabs like these at local culture they seem like they're on the right track. Trick or Cheat has little chance of engaging anyone outside of Hong Kong, and the filmmakers play upon that, making the film on the cheap with young, perhaps flash-in-the-pan idols who may not last past this year. Using rising commercial idols is a commentary in itself on Hong Kong entertainment, as the industry is famous for its fast-food commercialism. The filmmakers’ shoot-from-the-hip methods echo, if not celebrate that quick, fast, do-what-you-can-now spirit inherent in so much of Hong Kong and its pop culture.
The execution could be better, however, and the filmmakers sometimes go too far. One student, crazy-haired Kau (Ronald Wong) gets possessed by Heath Ledger for his oral exam, and does a fifteen-minute impression of the Joker from The Dark Knight that starts surprisingly decent before becoming tiresome and tactless. Also, the cheating sequences are undermined by romantic subplots that never click. Gem and would-be drummer Barbie (Renee Lee of girl group Cream) both have a thing for tall James (James Ho of boy band Square), but he plays them against one another in a reprehensible manner that’s never satisfyingly addressed. Also, pretty Michelle (Michelle Wai of Happily Ever After) admires William, but William’s half-sister Ciwi (Ciwi Lam) is secretly against their union.
The kids' duplicity and backstabbing is reminiscent of Patrick Kong’s super-cynical youth romances, but instead of serving up Kong’s trashy melodrama, Seven’s drops the situations on the audience in the most boring and uninteresting manner possible. The situations never earn sympathy and frequently devolve into girls pouring their hearts out to someone else that you never believed that they cared about in the first place. With respect to its love stories, Trick or Cheat gets a failing grade.
Ultimately, Trick or Cheat is just too scattered to really register, and ends up annoying when it shouldn’t. The acting ranges from decent to unremarkable with the unpolished performances rendered more unconvincing by the pronounced “indie” shooting style. Jokes are inconsistent too, with clever references sometimes introduced and then forgotten. The film’s opening Mongkok street dance ends when someone drops a bottle of acidic chemicals from the sky – a reference to current local crimes involving chemicals poured onto crowded pedestrian streets. However, the reference is used and then dismissed, never leading to anything more.
Like the story, characters, and, well, just about everything about Trick or Cheat, the laughs and emotions are disconnected, with everything seeming perfunctory. The same could be said of See You in You Tube too, but that film was the debut of Seven’s, and the film’s low-budget, youthful energy earned goodwill if not acclaim. Trick or Cheat does nothing to improve upon their first film, and indeed seems to suffer because of the perception that the whole Seven’s idea was a success. If they plan on keeping Seven’s around, they need to do more than just regurgitate their previous themes and formulas. Hopefully, Seven's will reinvent themselves for their next project. If they can’t do it creatively, then kicking out the three or four least talented people seems like a good start. (Kozo 2009)