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Run Papa Run
Run Papa Run     Run Papa Run

(left) Louis Koo and Nora Miao, and (right) Rene Liu in Run Papa Run.
Chinese: 一個好爸爸
Year: 2008
Director: Sylvia Chang
Writer: Sylvia Chang, Mathias Woo, Susan Chan Suk-Yin, Lee Chun-Yan (novel)
Cast: Louis Koo Tin-Lok, Rene Liu, Nora Miao, Liu Yihan, Lam Suet, Max Mok Siu-Chung, Derek Tsang Kwok-Cheung, Shaun Tam Chun-Yin, Conroy Chan Chi-Chung, Ti Lung, Kent Cheng Juk-Si, Chan Wai-Man, Siu Yam-Yam, Fruit Chan Gor, Ken Lo Wai-Kwong, Sammy Sum Chun-Hin
The Skinny: It has a few issues, but Run Papa Run is funny, moving, and entertaining. Sylvia Chang balances her elements well, and Louis Koo turns in a fine leading performance. As Hong Kong Cinema goes, it's probably the highlight of first quarter 2008.
by Kozo:

Louis Koo returns to triad territory in Run Papa Run, but this isn't your typical triad movie about gang violence, jockeying for elections, or endless discussions of face. The man with the tan stars as Lee Tin-Yun, a lifelong triad who originally joined the "Loyalty Society" because his deceased father was a member - and besides, it's hip to be one of the gang. Being a triad means you can act cool, dress up obnoxiously, and beat up people in beauty parlors. Along with pals Lam Suet and Max Mok, Tin-Yun is an up-and-coming player, though his mother Auntie Ying (the long-absent Nora Miao) isn't too keen on Tin-Yun's choice of vocation. Tin-Yun chooses the triad life anyway, sparring constantly with rival triads and cops, while wielding his power like it's a free pass to a Disneyland filled with nightclubs and free parking. Basically, the triad life rocks.

That is, when you're not looking over your shoulder, wondering when it's all going to come crashing down. Tin-Yun is plagued with the occasional nightmare where he's cut down in the line of triad duty, but those cold sweat nights usually don't deter him from his latest crappy hairstyle and pair of bellbottoms (Tin-Yun's formative triad years are set in the seventies). Things change for Tin-Yun when he meets lawyer Mabel Chan (Rene Liu), a devout Catholic who agrees to some sweaty car trysts with Tin-Yun before dropping this whopper on him: she's pregnant! The result is a shotgun marriage and little Lee Hai-Yi, a miniature bundle of joy who changes Tin-Yun faster than you can say, "internal monologue". Thanks to omnipresent Louis Koo voiceover - plus some handy scenes where the guy even breaks the fourth wall to talk to the audience - Tin-Yun's growth and development as a man and father is explained quickly and rather glibly. It's almost like Run Papa Run is a comedy.

Run Papa Run isn't a comedy, though - at least, it's not a traditional one. Director Sylvia Chang shies away from the straight drama, and instead goes for a mixture of genres. Run Papa Run is funny, heartwarming, and sometimes satirical. It's also uneven in tone, and finds comedy and surprise in its characters, visual concepts, art direction, and costumes. Besides scenes where Louis Koo breaks the fourth wall, we also get an animated opening sequence, plus even some musical moments that are obviously removed from reality. The result is somewhat hyper-realistic and expressionistic, but the break from consistent seriousness helps the film. The lighter tone helps the audience buy some of the film's less realistic concepts, and helps smooth over many possible inconsistencies or nagging details.

Still, it's difficult to buy that Lee Tin-Yun could be so completely changed by the arrival of Lee Hai-Yi. A guy who engages in gang fights and purports to be a gang leader should be fierce enough to withstand a little child, but the way Koo plays Tin-Yun, he's not far removed from the amusing, somewhat weak rogues Koo has essayed in numerous romantic comedies co-starring Gigi Leung. But the character's change of heart is indeed the whole point of the film, so to enjoy the film we have to buy that a lifelong triad would become so enamored of his infant daughter that he would go to insane lengths to keep his triad identity a secret. For example, he'll even get his fearsome tiger tattoo modified in order to prevent it from scaring her - which is exactly what Tin-Yun does in one of the film's funnier sequences. Also, he agrees to become baptized, though his allegiances still lean towards Buddhism. The film manages to have some fun with religion, occasionally riffing on either Catholicism or Buddhism as Tin-Yun sometimes finds himself torn between both. Jokes like those are more in the name of entertainment than biting satire, but Sylvia Chang gives Run Papa Run intelligence and wit to go along with its entertainment value.

Another positive: Louis Koo. Hong Kong's reigning non-Sky King hunk, Koo has yet to become a truly accomplished actor, but he has cornered the market on certain character types. Among them are the weak macho hero, the hen-pecked playboy, and other variations on the comically emasculated drop-dead gorgeous male. What makes Koo so special at the above roles is he can play them while retaining audience identification and sympathy, making him a likable lout that's less than a caricature and more than a simpering loser. Basically, if you need an actor to play a character like Lee Tin-Yun, Louis Koo is your go-to guy, as he can wring comedy and even some affecting emotions from potentially weak, easily-assailed men. Koo handles the role with fine panache, sometimes overacting, but never so much that the audience can't enjoy his performance or the film.

The film is perhaps slightly less successful than its lead actor, as it stretches itself a bit thin with its mixture of comedy and drama. Some parts of Tin-Yun's character are not adequately fleshed out - which is a bit odd, since he's the one narrating the film through voiceover. Run Papa Run seems built for laughs and tears laughs initially, but when it gets more serious, it builds up a tension that seems like it will require far more dramatics. But the ending of the film is both a literal and figurative cop-out, and in some ways seems to trivialize its increasingly involved details. Triad rivalries, an economic crisis, family troubles, marital difficulties, etc. - the problems keep piling on for Tin-Yun, and the film doesn't really answer every last detail, and leaves quite a few subplots and conflicts hanging. As such, the film comes up shorter than one might hope for something from Sylvia Chang, who's easily one of Hong Kong's better commercial auteurs, in that her films contain discernible commercial elements and yet usually accomplish a bit more.

Run Papa Run doesn't exactly measure up to Chang's complete canon, but it's an entertaining, enjoyable piece of Hong Kong Cinema that uses its resources exceptionally well. The mixture of humor and heart, while uneven, is still effective, and the film possesses a fine cast in support of Louis Koo. Rene Liu is by turns amusing and affecting as Tin-Yun's better half Mabel, and brings an immediate credibility to both the comic and dramatic portions of her role that most Hong Kong actresses would have a hard time matching. Just on name alone, Nora Miao has probably locked up a Best Supporting Actress nomination at next year's Hong Kong Film Awards, but her performance will probably earn it, too. The rest of the cast is populated by such familiar and welcome faces as Lam Suet, Max Mok, Ti Lung (in a fun turn as Mabel's father), Conroy Chan, Kent Cheng, Chan Wai-Man, Susan Shaw and other actors too numerous to mention. As of April 2008, Run Papa Run is the best Hong Kong film of the year - so far. Hopefully, better films will be arriving soon. In the meantime, Run Papa Run will more than do nicely. (Kozo 2008)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 6.1 / DTS 6.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

images courtesy of Emperor Motion Pictures Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen