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Driving Miss Wealthy

Lau Ching-Wan and Gigi Leung in Driving Miss Wealthy.
Year: 2003  
Director: James Yuen Sai-Sang  
Producer: Derek Yee Tung-Sing, Henry Fong Ping  
Writer: James Yuen Sai-Sang, Jessica Fong Ching, Law Yiu-Fai
Cast: Lau Ching-Wan, Gigi Leung Wing-Kei, Chow Chung, Law Koon-Lan, Jim Chim Sui-Man, Gao Yuan, Huang Xiao-Yan, Hui Siu-Hung, Tats Lau Yi-Tat, Jamie Luk Kin-Ming, Tuan Wai-Lun, Henry Fong Ping, Elena Kong Mei-Yi (voice)
The Skinny: Occasionally entertaining, though mostly uneven romantic comedy from director James Yuen that does its best to amuse. Given the state of Hong Kong Cinema, you could do a lot worse. You could also do a lot better.
by Kozo:

     Lau Ching-Wan and Gigi Leung get paired up in Driving Miss Wealthy, a romantic comedy that comes with an impressive pedigree. Writers James Yuen and Jessica Fong co-wrote last year's award-winning drama Lost in Time, which was directed by Driving Miss Wealthy producer Derek Yee. However, Derek Yee does not direct Driving Miss Wealthy; he leaves that up to pal James Yuen, who was responsible for Clean My Name, Mr. Coroner, and the epic My Wife is 18. Given the uneven and downright fluffy films Yuen has directed, it's no surprise that Driving Miss Wealthy turns out to be an amusing, but formulaic and throwaway cinema exercise. That said, it's not the worst thing Hong Kong has produced this year, though even that's being somewhat generous. Really, there just isn't much of a movie here.
     Lau Ching-Wan is Kit, an ex-cop who's looking to make some decent dough. His ex-boss Hui Siu-Hung sends him to a prime opportunity: bodyguard for reclusive tycoon Feng Kwok-Lap (Chow Chung). Kit manages to make it through the rigorous screening process, but it turns out the assignment is not to bodyguard Mr. Feng. Instead, he's supposed to watch over Feng's daughter Jennifer (Gigi Leung). While that sounds easy, this is a formulaic romantic comedy, meaning Jennifer is unbelievably quirky AND there are numerous manufactured situations designed to facilitate and/or hinder the lead actors' eventual union. The writers don't disappoint in that department, as Driving Miss Wealthy is loaded down with quirks, overused devices, and just plain strange stuff that's certainly distracting, but doesn't really add up to that much. Let's take a look:
     Jennifer is a spoiled rich girl whose friends constantly take advantage of her. She also won't accept a bodyguard, so Kit has to pretend to be Mario, her new Filipino driver. As a spoiled and totally unrealistic human being, Jennifer is due for some serious life lessons, so dad cooks them up for her. He pretends to go into a coma, and assigns his aides to pretend to steal the entire family fortune from Jennifer. He hopes that Jennifer can learn to stand on her own two feet, and sends along Mario/Kit to make sure she doesn't get into too much trouble. It's rough going at first, but Jennifer eventually recovers by using Mario/Kit's suave Filipino handsomeness (she calls him the "Filipino Louis Koo") to sell slimming pills to Hong Kong's Filipino population. Never mind that the business involves chicanery and non-FDA approved products, but Jennifer must learn to be a capable adult who'll go that extra mile just to save an extra $10. She also must eventually fall in love with Mario/Kit, but will she be able to handle the truth of his non-Filipino identity? Do you honestly think that she won't?
     As is usual with romantic comedies, the big question is not if the stars get together, but exactly how they go about it. Well, in Driving Miss Wealthy, the road to romance is paved with, yes, even more of those quirks, overused devices and just plain strange stuff. Jennifer has a fascination with getting really terrible hairdos from a hunky hairdresser, so we get an hour's worth of Gigi Leung with simply awful hair. Jennifer also gets Mario/Kit a makeover, which leads to a whole sequence of Lau Ching-Wan with faux dreadlocks, and the slow-motion sight of the two cavorting in romantic bad-hair harmony. There's also a sequence where Mario/Kit overdoses on a "skin lightening" herbal treatment, and Jennifer stays at his bedside, worried and teary-eyed for her male servant. And, most touching of all, there's an extended montage as Jennifer and Mario/Kit experience the joy of selling slimming products, and the camaraderie of being working-class people. If the above is actually supposed to be touching and/or emotionally compelling, then I clearly missed the boat.
      Driving Miss Wealthy is basically uneven as all hell, mixing the occasional cloying sentiment with out-of-nowhere gags that make no sense. In addition to all the events designed to create affection between the lead characters, there's even more random crap that may be momentarily funny, but overall adds absolutely nothing to the film. For example, when Jennifer and Mario/Kit first visit her new Sham Sui Po apartment, everyone they meet is played by serial overacting comedian Jim Chim Sui-Man. Why? Who the hell knows? One supposes it's supposed to be funny, but it seems more weird than anything else. Luckily, there's a "plot" to hold things together, but it's strung together by the barest minimum of development. Eventually everything comes together and Jennifer learns how to be a self-sufficient seller of slimming pills, but her transformation seems to only be scripted. The script supports its driving storyline with only perfunctory details, and saves the rest of its efforts for random inanity. Wong Jing would be proud.
     On the other hand, Driving Miss Wealthy gets some points over the standard Wong Jing wackfest (i.e., The Spy Dad) by at least attempting to tie things up in a somewhat logical, if not too realistic fashion. Despite all the manufactured hijinks going on in this slightly overlong 100-minute movie, Lau Ching-Wan and Gigi Leung do strike up enough chemistry to make their pairing seem at least somewhat desirable. Lau, in particular, has some fun with his fake Filipino accent, and Leung manages to become much more sympathetic towards the end of the film. Sadly, for most of Driving Miss Wealthy, Leung is more annoying than charming, and overall gives an inconsistent performance. At least the actors perform well enough to make rooting for them possible. They're certainly a more interesting pair than, say, Richie Ren and Cecilia Cheung, but really, that can only get you so far. Ultimately, Driving Miss Wealthy isn't much more than your usual bag of romantic comedy tricks, and is directed with only passable interest by James Yuen. Given the quality of stars and Hong Kong Cinema's rather sparse 2004 output, Driving Miss Wealthy is occasionally diverting, and even amusing. However, those with limited movie-watching time probably don't need to go here. (Kozo 2004)

Notes: Driving Miss Wealthy goes by the Cantonese title Juet Sai Ho Bun, which is an obvious play on Juet Sai Ho Bra, the Cantonese title for the hit film La Brassiere, which starred Driving Miss Wealthy's two main attractions: Lau Ching-Wan and Gigi Leung. Juet Sai Ho Bra loosely translates as "World's Best Bra", whereas Juet Sai Ho Bun means "World's Best Filipino." How Lau Ching-Wan is meant to qualify as the world's best Filipino is beyond me, but there's your Chinese lesson.
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Panorama Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable Chinese and English Subtitles

image courtesy of Panorama Entertainment Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen