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December 21st, 2000 Issue #36

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 Kong Filmography.

(2000; China Star Entertainment Group / One Hundred Years of Film / Milkyway Image): 3/10

Cover art courtesy Mei Ah.
Laat sau wui chun

Ai qing min gan di dai

Hot Hand Restores Vitality

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.

DVD Specs:

Mei Ah #DVD-355
Dolby Digital (2.1 and 5.1)
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Optional Subtitles In English and Chinese (Traditional or Simplified)
9 Chapters Illustrated In the Menu With Stills
Letterboxed (2.33:1)
Coded for ALL Regions
Category IIB (for medical gore)
89 Minutes

DVD menu courtesy Mei Ah.

Derived from a positive print in good condition, the image boasts passable detail levels but is on the dark side. Some artifacting is visible during rainfall but the compression is otherwise adequate. The sound on the 5.1 option is okay, with mild stereo separations, while the Cantonese mono 2.1 version is thin and compressed. The Mandarin version is a bit better but the dubbing is annoying and you lose the sync sound of the original. For some odd reason, music can be heard during the opening credits on both of the 5.1 tracks, while the 2.1 versions have only droning surface noise. A trailer has not been included but there are previews for A WAR NAMED DESIRE and LOVE PARADOX, as well as a bilingual synopsis and cast / crew listing. As per usual with Mei Ah, the disc has no time functions.

Jordan Chan and Cecilia Cheung. Image courtesy Mei Ah.

Copyright © John Charles 2000, 2001. All Rights Reserved.

Hong Kong Digital is presented in association with Hong Kong Entertainment News In Review