Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Hooked on you 每当变幻时 (2007)

Nothing screams 70s than a wet market comedy!

For some reason, Hooked on you is marketed as a romantic comedy, when it really is an incredible homage and reworking of Michael Hui's brand of social comedy. Perhaps the Hui name carries connotations of a satire too sharp for modern, post-handover sensibilities, but every second of Hooked on you indicates that even though Hui has not directed or written for more than a decade, his comic sensibilities are making a comeback through a new generation of filmmakers who have grown up watching his movies. Regular readers of my reviews will be familiar with my despair at how Hollywood insists on resurrecting and remaking old genres that it has neither the means or talent to pull off (currently, the romantic comedy). Yet there's something really interesting happening here in Hooked on you: not only are Law Wing-cheong and Fun Chi Keung reviving the Michael Hui comedy, but they're updating it for the modern day, in a respectful and credible manner.

So, instead of seeing this as a quirky romantic comedy - as the official poster and website art would have you do - I'd rather tell it like it is. Hooked on you takes place in a wet market and revolves around the lives of its stall operators. In other words, it's a social comedy about the ordinary, small people in their element. And all you have to do is just place the denizens of the wet market (appropriately given the typical Michael Hui name of "Prosperity Market") in and let the comedy unfold naturally, like clockwork. And this is how we'd get various skits linked together, about the silly games and tricks rival fishmongers play on each other, about how the entire wet market plans a comeback after a Cold Storage supermarket opens next door, how the stallholders get involved in a silly pyramid scheme, and even the continual success story of a former wet market stallholder turned smuggler and conman. The concept of all these comic skits and the sheer ensemble work required to pull them of is typical for a Michael Hui at the top of his game - except of course, Michael Hui isn't on the credits.

And much to my amazement, the director and scriptwriter actually do succeed in reviving the old style of comedy. While it's true that the most pungently satirical and slapstick sequences of Hui are nowhere to be found here, what you can savour is how the spirit of the comedy gets transfered into the at times absurdist dialogue. Armed with the benefit of the modern HK film industry, Law and Fung manage to not just recreate Hui's comedy and sociological imagination, but also turn out a slicker production that will no doubt be more suited to the tastes of modern audiences.

Now, don't get the impression that Hooked on you is any lesser for its romantic comedy angle, which covers about a third of the runtime and plot. What I like about the director and writer is that having developed such a homage to Hui, they aren't going to sell out at all by inserting a fluffy and stupid romantic comedy involving impossibly cute leads falling in love in the most improbable manner through the most impossible coincidences. You'd be far better off watching something else if you had that in mind, but if you had any curiosity about how Michael Hui might have incorporated a romantic theme and premise ("A woman slowly turning 30, still in search of a mate") into his social comedies without compromising his satirical vision, Hooked on you would be a good movie to watch.

On the whole, Hooked on you is highly recommended for fans of 1970-1980s social comedies directed by Li Han-hsiang and Michael Hui.

First published at incinemas on 28 June 2007

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