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City of SARS
Chinese: 非典人生
"No, it wasn't me at the strip club!"
Patrick Tam (left, in mask) talks to the press
Year: 2003
Director: Steve Cheng Wai-Man
Producer: Raymond Wong Bak-Ming, Zhong Xiong-Bing, Philip Chan Yan-Kin, Zhao Jun
Cast: Patrick Tam Yiu-Man, Kristy Yeung Kung-Yu, Edwin Siu Jing-Nam, Serena Po Sai-Yi, Eric Tsang Chi-Wai, Jerry Lamb Hiu-Fung, Chin Kar-Lok, Sharon Chan Man-Chi, Monica Lo Suk-Yi, Felix Wong Yat-Wah, Amanda Lee Wai-Man, Gabriel Harrison, Thomas Lam Cho-Fai, Tse Suet-Sum, Zuki Lee Si-Pui
The Skinny: A moderately interesting anthology of SARS-related tales. The stories themselves are not that new or exciting, but the background provides some welcome insight into Hong Kong's 2003 troubles. That is, if everything's accurate.
by Kozo:

Basically a movie of the week, HK Cinema-style, City of SARS is minor anthology of tales all set in a city under seige. Taking place during the famed outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, the stories illustrate issues facing HK people during those troubled times. The stories themselves aren't really much to write home about, and mine familiar—and even hackneyed—themes. Still, this minor glimpse into the lives of HK people is welcome enough to moderately interest.

In story one, a doctor (Patrick Tam) and a nurse (Kristy Yeung) experience professional doubt when confronted with SARS. As the hospital ward begins to fill up and co-workers fall ill to the disease, the two must come to terms with their chosen professions. Will they brave the disease, or resign and run away? Since this is a "hopeful" film, the results are never in doubt, but the drama portrayed is effective. Plus Patrick Tam and Kristy Yeung are nice to look at.

Story two involves a self-involved young woman (Serena Po, formerly of Cookies) who is sent to a quarantine camp when her apartment complex comes under suspicion for SARS. While there, she spends her time trying to contact her jerk-off boyfriend, who previous to her detainment preferred playing Solitaire on his PC than spending time with her. Her cell phone never rings, but luckily there's Henry (Edwin Siu) to make things better. Probably the nicest guy in the known universe, Henry spends his SARS days trying to make life better for everyone else, a message which is neither subtle or new. Eventually, she recognizes that her current boyfriend is a heel, but not before her new guy has to get carted to the hospital. Serena Po is not much of an actress, and ultimately her story is a bit of a yawner. This is easily the least interesting of the three stories, but hey, at least Edwin Siu seems like a nice guy.

The last story plays like a comedy, and features Eric Tsang as Boss Hung, a blustery businessman who gets his comeuppance when SARS punches a hole in his pocket. With fear of the disease on the rise, fewer people frequent his restaurants and karaoke clubs. Since Hung wants his sister (Sharon Chan) to be taken care of, he decides to off himself in the best way possible: contract SARS and die a media-hyped death. The satiric quality of the third story makes it the most interesting, but Steve Cheng's direction is more muddled than sharp. When you factor in Eric Tsang's criminally annoying performance, the third tale seems like a misfire.

Ultimately, what's best about City of SARS are its minor insights into what it was like to live in a city beset by such a swift and alarming disease. The varying ways in which SARS is discussed makes for some interesting viewing. The doctors deal with it directly, the citizens fear its possible encroachment on their lives, and some people view it as a big joke until it costs them their businesses. There are the occasional laughable flourishes (the virus is seen spreading through the air not unlike the ebola in Outbreak), but to see the different ways the disease affected the day-to-day lives of normal people is both refreshing and undeniably interesting. City of SARS is probably better viewing for those who actually weren't in Hong Kong, since those that were there had to deal with this stuff ad nauseum. Ultimately, this isn't really a good film, but it's not an entirely unworthy one, either. (Kozo 2004)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Kam & Ronson Enterprise
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
image courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen