Hong Kong Digital
is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- a film
reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author of The Hong
Jordan Chan, Ekin Cheng, and Cecilia Cheung. Image courtesy Mei Ah.
The Milkyway Image team has had plenty of experience with black comedy in the past but this send-up of the medical profession (co-directed by Johnny To Kei-fung and Wai Kar-fai) fails in almost every way possible, showing just how challenging this type of parody can be even for veterans of the form.
Lam Kau. Image courtesy Mei Ah.
Ho Kau Kei Hospital is not exactly a bastion of medical excellence, with the lazy doctors constantly trying to fob patients off on one another. When the facility's founder, Ho Kau-kei himself (Lam Kau), gets struck by lightning, even he gets tossed around like a hot potato. The one ethical doctor on staff is newcomer Yan (a miscast Cecilia Cheung Pak-chi, who is at least five years too young for this part) and Sir Ho orders her to help put things back in order. After bringing about the reformation of her slovenly mentor, Jim (Jordan Chan Siu-chun), he and Yan set out to lure back medical whiz Joe (Ekin Cheng Yee-kin), now a master mechanic who runs his garage like a finely tuned emergency ward. With Joe onboard, Yan is all set but Sir Ho gets struck by lightning again and falls into a coma, leaving her side with no upper management support. Meanwhile, the rest of the staff (including Milkyway regulars Hui Shiu-hung and Lam Suet) are perfectly happy being lazy and irresponsible and, with the ample encouragement of the hospital's bean counters, do their best to sabotage the trio's efforts. The layabouts are finally made to see the error of their ways and proceed to quit en masse when faced with the ludicrous rules forced upon them by the hospital's strange, reclusive board of directors. However, a massive blackout, a horrible bus accident, and the group's renewed belief in The Hippocratic Oath just might lure them back.
Lam Suet and Hui Shiu-hung. Image courtesy Mei Ah.
Some of the best black comedies find extreme humor in realistic situations but HELP!!! goes a different route by exaggerating everything and everyone in what seems to be a half-hearted stab at replicating the bureaucratic nightmare at the heart of Terry Gilliam's BRAZIL. It also tries to fold in elements of screwball comedy, with frenetic pacing and shot after shot of people tearing down corridors like their pants are on fire. Sadly, as a satire, the film's targets are drearily obvious and, as a farce, the humor is, well, drearily obvious. Gags about mobile phones and dentures turning up inside patients are the kind of thing one would expect from Wong Jing, not one of HK's finest production teams, and some dashes of fantasy (like Ekin Cheng's cars serving as a sort of mechanized conscience for him) are interesting but no more successful; the same goes for the ending. Trivia note: the film playing on the restaurant TV is Wilson Yip's horror comedy BIO ZOMBIE, a much more adept combination of dark and light.
Jordan Chan and Ekin Cheng. Image courtesy Mei Ah.