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Poster of Love in the Buff © istolethetv/Flickr
Poster of Love in the Buff © istolethetv/Flickr
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Celebrating Pang Ho-Cheung, Esteemed Vulgar Auteur of Hong Kong-ness

Picture of Agnes Kwan
Updated: 12 January 2017
Pang Ho-Cheung’s movies are bizarre, humorous, and satirical — but vulgar to some. Mixed opinions aside, Pang is clearly a bold auteur representative of Hong Kong‘s local culture. To understand the nature of his authorship, the following three films are a great place to start.
Poster of Love in a Puff | © bfishadown/Flickr
Poster of Love in a Puff | © bfishadown/Flickr

Love in a Puff (2010)

‘Their destinies entwine as smoke gets in their eyes’. Love in a Puff (2010) is a romantic comedy of the intermingling smoke-and-love kind. In 2007 a new policy was implemented banning all indoor smoking, naturally leading smokers from all walks of life to meet and gather in backstreets and alleys for their cigarette breaks. Amidst the ‘hot pot packs,’ where gossip and jokes circulate, Jimmy and Cherie meet and their spark grows ambiguously intense day by day.

As a romantic comedy, Love in a Puff surprisingly exceeds audience’s expectations with Pang Ho-Cheung’s brilliance in contextualization and narration. Having the story centered on a marginalized group — smokers who are symbolically and practically isolated by the new anti-smoking policy, Pang demonstrates his acute sensitivity to the trivial but realistic daily changes within the city. Alleys, backstreets, convenience stores, karaoke lounges, love hotel are rendered as down-to-earth places for the exploration of people’s everyday life dynamics.

Such a Hong Kong-specific context aside, Pang’s montaging of interview clips within a diary-like narrative framework shows how the smoking policy changed the city’s landscape and provided “outsider” perspectives on the story of Jimmy and Cherie.

Vulgaria (2012)

Crude yet hilarious, absurd yet witty, explicit yet bold – this is how Vulgaria (2012) mind-blowingly impresses the audience. The protagonist To Wai-Cheung is a veteran filmmaker who explains to film school students various ways to raise funds. One of the students asks what sacrifices To has had to make, prompting To to recall the scattered memories of his astonishing stories. Having struggled in the industry for years, To aspires to produce quality movies and, above all, earn the recognition of his daughter as a “genuine movie producer”. Yet money is always the problem, pushing him to negotiate with Tyrannosaurs, the leader of a Guangxi triad. Their cooperation eventually gives birth to a gimmick-overladen movie for which To is ridiculed.

Representing the Hong Kong film industry, To Wai-Cheung sacrifices his dignity and has sex with a mule — only to get his deal with Tyrannosaurus done. This ludicrously exaggerated plot is considered by some a smart satire of the phenomenon of local movie producers resorting to partnerships with mainland China for the sake of money. Take this analysis or simply regard it as a daring comedy, Vulgaria is Pang’s box-office champion and an undeniable success.

Aberdeen (2014)

Aberdeen is a drama centering on family dynamics and the struggle of how to survive and live in Hong Kong. As such, it marks a significant shift from Pang Ho-Cheung’s previous work. Literally suggested by the film’s Chinese title ‘Hong Kong guy’, Aberdeen explores the notion of Hong Kong identity as well as individual worth. Tao, a top-notch tutor, has always thought that his daughter is disadvantaged because she is plain. Tao’s actress wife Ceci, who has undergone cosmetic surgery, ponders her worth when she is granted a casting opportunity in return for sexual favors. Tao’s sister Ching traps herself with her unforgiving dead mother, and Ching’s husband Yau is confused by his own infidelity. Every character is lost and looking for a way out of their state of limbo.

Aberdeen is an ambitious film by Pang, not only in terms of the movie’s message but also is terms of technique. Despite Pang’s efforts to make the multiple story lines coherent, however, the movie still seems scattered. His use of extensive metaphors and symbols – a chameleon, highway signs, paper offerings, whales, inhaling and exhaling – would have been more effective had the movie been less aggressive and more meticulously structured.

Pang Ho-Cheung | © May S. Young/Flickr
Pang Ho-Cheung | © May S. Young/Flickr

Pang’s recent collaboration with mainland China has brought him a certain amount of criticism, with some claiming he sacrificed to some extent his unique style and authorship, in exchange for mass produced mediocrity in the cash-rich Chinese market. Let’s hope that Pang’s upcoming productions maintain his established status as one of the smartest and most-talented filmmakers of Hong Kong.