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Chapman To and Dada Chen in Vulgaria.
Chinese: 低俗喜劇  
Year: 2012
Director: Pang Ho-Cheung
Producer: Pang Ho-Cheung, Subi Liang
Writer: Pang Ho-Cheung, Lam Chiu-Wing, Jody Luk Yee-Sum
Cast: Chapman To Man-Chat, Ronald Cheng Chung-Kei, Dada Chen, Simon Lui Yu-Yeung, Siu Yam-Yam, Lawrence Cheng Tan-Shui, Crystal Tin Yui-Lei, Jacqueline Chan, Fiona Sit Hoi-Kei, Matthew Chow Hoi-Kwong, Hiro Hayama, Lam Suet, Lawrence Chou Chun-Wai, Jim Chim Sui-Man, Miriam Yeung Chin-Wah, Nora Miao, Vincent Kok Tak-Chiu, Mak Ling-Ling, Jimmy Wan Chi-Man, Pang Lap-Wei
The Skinny: Vulgaria is super fun for fans of Hong Kong Cinema and filmmaking in general, though it may remain esoteric to some. Pang Ho-Cheung's crass creativity makes up for the loose story and lack of sight gags, and Pang manages decent emotions too. Fluency in Cantonese is a must to get the full effect.
by Kozo:
Hong Kong’s naughtiest filmmaker Pang Ho-Cheung goes delightfully meta with Vulgaria, a hilarious love letter to Hong Kong movies that also functions as a cynical indictment of the industry and its culture. Producer To Wai-Cheung (Chapman To) gives a Q&A to an assembly of university students at the behest of old friend Professor Cheng (Lawrence Cheng), and immediately compares his job as a producer to human pubic hair – and his reasons for doing so are both hilarious and justified. From there, the film descends into increasingly off-color observations and depictions of the film industry, as To describes his latest project, a remake of the 1976 erotic film Confession of a Concubine (a.k.a. I Want More). To also talks about his “sacrifices” to get the film produced, which involve triads, mules and some activity involving the latter that To claims to have forgotten.

To’s involvement with four-legged beasts of burden is the film’s longest running joke, as he’s constantly harangued by the students about the subject. To also wonders what happened that evening; he was set up by pal Lui Wing-Shing (Simon Lui) to meet mainland triad Tyrannosaur (Ronald Cheng), who expressed the desire to see his favorite erotic film get remade. Sour negotiations led to an instruction for To and Lui to make love to mules, after which To’s memory failed. To’s recall is somewhat irrelevant, as Tyrannosaur agreed to fund the project – yay! However, Tyrannosaur demands that the original film’s lead actress Siu Yam-Yam return for the sequel. It’s been over 30 years since the original Confession of a Concubine, so having Siu Yam-Yam strip for a sequel would be a difficult proposition. If you’ve seen Siu Yam-Yam’s current visage you’d know that said proposition is also frightening.

Fear not, To has a fantastic plan to make Tyrannosaur’s dream come true, involving new-fangled CGI and the help of wannabe starlet Popping Candy (Dada Chen of Lan Kwai Fong). However, following every solution is another problem, each digging a deeper hole and providing fodder for To’s university lesson on the glory and inanity of filmmaking. Vulgaria is basically a ninety-minute swipe at the film industry, with numerous jokes throwing Hong Kong Cinema under the bus. It’s all very smart, cynical and irreverent, and Pang earns his Category III rating handily with off-color subject matter (bestiality, masturbation, the mental image of Siu Yam-Yam naked) and probably the most creative profanity that Hong Kong Cinema has ever seen. The jokes translate well enough thanks to smart subtitles, but knowledge of Cantonese is a huge plus, as there’s far more going on than constant F-bombs.

The ribald content is all verbal, however. Nearly all gags are left to the imagination, and despite being chesty, Dada Chen never shows more than pokies. Those who think that Category III is a genre and not a rating may be a bit disappointed with Vulgaria, as it never backs up its lewd words with corresponding images. Honestly, Pang’s verboseness is just fine. Pang has a dirty mind but he doesn’t need to pander to his audience. He gets enough mileage from his film-skewering gags, which include a director (Matt Chow) who insists on putting Al Qaeda references into his work, a leading man (Hiro Hayama, already lampooning himself) with a fear of exploding body parts, and film students who are more interested in stories of bestiality than actual filmmaking. Jokes about sexual harassment, the Hong Kong educational system, unusual fellatio techniques and other topics further demonstrate Pang’s renowned irreverence.

Vulgaria was shot in old-school Hong Kong Cinema style, meaning an incomplete script and a rushed production schedule. The roughness shows as the story lacks focus, with only some storylines actually reaching a conclusion. Some scenes are obvious in their needlessness; Jim Chim’s extended cameo exists only to deliver a drawn-out joke about masturbation. Still, Pang’s creative crassness is enough to offset any narrative gripes, and he even creates some effective emotion. The romance between To and Popping Candy is only mildly interesting, but To’s relationship with his daughter (Jacqueline Chan) and his clashes with his ex-wife (played by Chapman To’s real spouse Crystal Tin) do manage surprising connection. The actors acquit themselves well; Chapman To gives a canny performance in the lead, while Dada Chen is engaging if not noteworthy as the always-willing Popping Candy. The standout, however, is Ronald Cheng, who owns the film as the urbane and deviant Tyrannosaur.

For what it intends to be, Vulgaria is a resounding success. It’s a smart, entertaining and blisteringly funny film that should easily delight its intended audience. It’s those other audience members who may not be so engaged. One possible complaint with Vulgaria is that it feels a little exclusive. This is a comedy for film-savvy hipsters who understand the lingo, the in-jokes and what it means to be a culture geek. Meanwhile, others may be turned off by the film’s profanity, dirty humor or even its too-cool-for-school attitude. The observation is neither here or there, however, because the very subject matter of Vulgaria guarantees that grandma won’t be going. This is a great movie for a target crowd, and it won’t convert anyone outside that crowd into a Pang Ho-Cheung fan. So we end Vulgaria exactly where we started, with Pang Ho-Cheung as Hong Kong Cinema’s most talented smartass filmmaker. It’s a crown he should wear with pride. (Kozo, Reviewed at the Udine Far East Film Festival, 2012)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Universe Laser (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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image credit: Udine Far East Film Festival Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen