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Issue #121 HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES August 19th, 2002

Frugal Game
(2002; Universe Films Distribution Co. / Films Station Production)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Cantonese: Han chin ga juk
Mandarin: Qian qian jia zu
English: Frugal Families

Hong Kong's newest "It" girl, actress/singer Miriam Yeung Chin-wah, toplines this congenial send-up of Reality TV shows. Although he tries his best to project an image of success, Wai Tai-hon (Eric Tsang Chi-wai) is actually unemployed and barely scraping by. With his wife having abandoned the family, Tai-hon must provide for his daughter, Chin-wah (Yeung), who is also looking for work, and young son, Man-wah. While killing time one morning, Tai-hon is thrilled to see that Diana (Carol Cheng Yu-ling), the woman who fired him, is also now out of a job. However, she proposes a truce and a scheme to help them both out of debt: the game show "Frugal Family" is looking for two families of unemployed people to participate in an upcoming cycle of episodes. Each group of four is given free accommodations and an expense allowance of HK$400 (US$51) a day for a week's time. The ones who spend the least amount, after the seven day period has ended, get all of their debts erased. With Diana filling in for the absent Mrs. Wai, they will have enough members to qualify for the contest. However, everything in these specially designed, camera-filled dwellings costs HK$5 (including toilet paper!), so the Wais experience significant trouble staying within their budget. The other clan (including Wayne Lai Yiu-cheung and Josie Ho Chiu-yee) take an early lead by all but starving themselves to death and a string of mishaps also mar the Wais' chances for victory. Meanwhile, Chin-wah strikes up a relationship with the program's indolent director (Eason Chan Yik-shun), who would rather be working on a period martial arts serial starring his hero, Ti Lung (who appears as himself).

FRUGAL GAME follows a well-worn path from beginning to end and is certainly unlike what one has come to expect from director Derek Chiu Sung-kei (COMEUPPANCE, SEALED WITH A KISS). Fortunately, the premise is rich with comedic possibilities and the movie capitalizes on them enough times to keep one smiling. It also boasts a significant pleasure in the form of Carol Cheng. This is her first HK film appearance in eight years but the actress effortlessly slips back into the sort of shallow, money-obsessed character that she played to perfection in numerous comedies throughout the 80s and early 90s. Screenwriters Lee Po-cheung and Fung Chi-keung often take the easy way out when resolving plot threads but also come up with a number of genuinely clever bits (particularly a sequence where the Wais find ways to gorge themselves on free samples of food but end up being cheated in turn by one restaurant's sneaky promotional scam). They also deserve kudos for their clever use of Ti Lung, gently poking fun at himself and a beloved swordsman character he previously played on TV. One thing FRUGAL GAME could have done without, however, is the annoying practice (spurred no doubt by LA BRASSIERE's success) of using botched takes, where performers can be seen breaking up on camera. This sort of thing is fine for giving patrons a little something extra under the end credits (which this production also does) but including NG takes in the actual movie does not say much for the material or the filmmakers' confidence in it.

Cover art courtesy Universe.

Wayne Lai and Miriam Yeung. Image courtesy Universe.

Carol Cheng and Eric Tsang. Image courtesy Universe.


Eason Chan. Image courtesy Universe.

Universe #6100 (Hong Kong label)

Dolby Digital 5.1

Sync Sound Cantonese and Dubbed Mandarin Language Tracks

Optional Subtitles In English and Chinese (Traditional or Simplified)

8 Chapters Illustrated In the Menu With Clips

Letterboxed (1.70:1)

Coded for ALL Regions

101 Minutes

Contains mild language

DVD menu courtesy Universe.

British Columbia: PG (Coarse Language)
Hong Kong: IIA
Singapore: PG

The image is quite soft and often hazy, with colors that generally disappoint. The flaws in the presentation do not interfere too much with the entertainment but, considering that Universe produced this movie themselves, the transfer should have been much better. The stereo mix is pretty barebones but suitable for the material and acceptably delivered. Subtitle translation is passable but does not cover a number of Chinese characters and signs, obscuring some of the humor for English speakers. Star Files are provided for the leads, along with a trailer and a few seconds of videotaped behind-the-scenes bits (misleadingly labelled as a "Making Of").

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