Back in 2001, Edmond Pang Ho-Cheung unleashed You
Shoot, I Shoot upon an unsuspecting Hong Kong
audience. The film wasn't much of a hit with Hong
Kong audiences, but has since gained a small following
on video for its wicked skewering of Hong Kong hitmen
and the territory's floundering socio-economic climate.
While the film never really achieved anything lofty,
its creative, intelligent wit was more than welcome.
Thankfully, Pang is at it again with Men Suddenly
in Black. His black comedy on philandering husbands
takes an easy premise and wrings surprising material
from it. This is probably not a movie for those seeking
warm-and-fuzzy smiles, but for those who wouldn't
mind some intelligent Hong Kong silliness, this film
could be just what the doctor ordered.
Tin (Eric Tsang), Cheung
(Jordan Chan), Chao (Chapman To) and Paul (Spirit
Blue) are on a mission. The four have undertaken on
this very day to go out and sleep with women they
are not married to. Such a decision seems to be one
that happens every day in the ugly real world, but
in the world of Men Suddenly in Black, it's
an event that requires careful planning, fortuitous
happenstance, and a trip to Thailand for the significant
others. Since their wives (Teresa Mo, Candy Lo, Masha
Yuen and Tiffany Lee) will be out of the country,
the men have exactly fourteen hours in which to betray
those to which they are wed. They meet, prepare their
suppliescash, an inconspicous vehicle (a taxi),
and many condomsand set out on Mission Number
One: a rendezvous with their first loves, AKA: hopefully
some free sex.
beset them. The sex isn't necessarily free (not everyone
wants to sleep with a married man), spies are everywhere
(are those the in-laws?), and the legality of some
things aren't always in order. Mission Number Two
is a cyber cafe (run by serial overacter Jim Chim
Sui-Man), but the women aren't up to quality. And
there's a raid by the cops and a suspicous amount
of overeager tabloid photographers. And isn't that
Cheung's wife's car tailing them? How did the women
get on their trail? Is there a betrayer amongst the
four? And shouldn't the four philandering husbands
realize their true calling, and return home to their
wives, homes, mortgages and assorted other shackles
of a society? In most movies like this, our "heroes"
would soon realize that sneaking around on your spouse
is bad, and going home is what you have to do. At
least, that's what a reasonable audience member would
Well, that's not
how it goes down in Men Suddenly in Black.
Instead of giving up and going home to the wives,
the heroes decide they must continue on their quest
for outside booty. The reasoning is all over the map
and actually quite funny: one reasons that he has
to sneak around in order to treat his wife better,
and another simply says he wants to finally have sex.
There's also an honorable reason for their actions:
one of their older comrades (Tony Leung Ka-Fai in
a hilarious cameo) once sacrificed himself for his
buddies, and took the full blame for a night at the
club. As a result, he lives at home with his powerful
wife (Sandra Ng, in an equally hilarious cameo), who
continually grills him to name names, and even uses
the promise of porn magazines to get him to talk.
If anything, the four guys HAVE to get laid by women
they aren't married to, if only to make their friend's
sacrifice meaningful. It's like they're in a triad,
except there are no dingy bars or knife fightsjust
ritzy hotel suites with half-dressed models and complimentary
contraceptives. Yes, this is unusual stuff.
Basically, someone should
just sit Edmond Pang Ho-Cheung down and throw a barrel
of money at him to write and direct his next motion
picture, which will hopefully be as witty and creative
as his last two. Men Suddenly in Black is most
definitely not to be taken seriously, and it wears
its cinematic sarcasm like a badge of honor. The men
treat their adultery with the same seriousness as
a top-secret government mission. The women chase the
men to gain evidence of their betrayalnot because
they feel jilted, but because they want leverage in
their relationships. There are even knowing parodies
to Infernal Affairs and the slow-motion gunplay
of John Woo. When beset by paparazzi who may gain
evidence of their activities, the men explode with
two-gun waterhose action and flying flash-camera acrobatics.
Silly, and perhaps a little too over-the-top, but
also pretty damn funny.
If anything truly negative
could be levied at Men Suddenly in Black, it
could be that its silliness is potentially damaging.
There are probably some out there who would decry
the "comedy" for lampooning male-female
relationships to a frighteningly scathing degree.
Are men supposed to be lauded for their cheating ways?
Are women just gold-digging harridans who want to
keep their men on power-sapping leashes? Is Pang trying
to say anything by making one designated couple seemingly
regretful and forgiving? Who can really tell in the
ninety-nine minutes the film zooms by?
That the film
was shot and edited with quick, stylistic strokes
makes it even easier to digest. There are brief moments
of encroaching maudlin seriousness, but everything
moves so fast and furiously that just taking it in
is involving and entertaining enough. Maybe a repeat
viewing would reveal some darker subtext about how
men or women are truly evil, and how the covenant
of marriage is only for saps or suckers, but somehow
I doubt that to be the case. The script may step on
a few landmines of the sexually political variety,
but itand Pang's directionare quickfooted
enough to nimbly scamper by. Forget dissecting what
it all means; we should just be glad that the film
proves funny in a consistent, intelligent manner.
And, it does so in a way that most current Hong Kong
"comedies" do not. Edmond Pang Ho-Cheung:
please make more movies. (Kozo 2003)