One of the highlights of the Fantasia International Film Festival is unquestionably the selection of Hong Kong genre films. Hong Kong is at the forefront of what can only be called a resurgence in high-quality, challenging and engaging Asian cinema that looks and sounds just as, if not better, than their American counterparts. And one of the directors leading the pack is Pang Ho-Cheung.
As much as I hate to refer to filmmakers as “the next” this or “the Asian” that, for people who may not be aware of Pang’s work, it does offer a comfortable reference point for those looking to get into his filmography. With his witty yet profane dialogue, street-smart approach to exploring the dynamics between men and women and his rather open-minded look at contemporary relationships, Pang Ho-Cheung can best be described as the Hong Kong “Kevin Smith” of his generation. That’s Kevin Smith, circa “Chasing Amy,” mind you.
On the heels of his masterful “Love in a Puff” and the sequel that followed, Pang Ho-Cheung brings us, “Vulgaria,” a vulgar, but sweet look at the life of a Category III film producer who regales a film class with a tale of how he made love to a mule in order to convince a mob boss to finance his latest project. The project in question being a remake of the classic adult film “Confessions of a Concubine.” The mob boss not only wants this film remade but he also wants its original star Yin Yin Shaw to reprise her role, despite the fact that she’s now in her 60s. What follows is a series of hilarious set-pieces in which our intrepid film producer must not only appease his mob boss financier, but the demands of his high-maintenance cast, the emotional needs of his daughter, the financial needs of his ex-wife not to mention his own sexual needs, though he’s got that covered courtesy of Popping Candy, a beautiful young would-be movie star who’s claim to fame is chewing on a bag of popping candy while performing certain activities of the “oral variety.”
Much like the best work of Kevin Smith, Pang Ho-Cheung is able to balance some of the more gross-out, “dick and fart” jokes with a genuine sense of humanity with “Vulgaria.” As funny and shocking as watching a scene in which a mule gets ploughed six ways to Sunday, some of the film’s stronger sequences involve the film producer’s relationship with his daughter. One scene in particular where his ex-wife attempts to bribe the producer by offering to forego a year’s worth of alimony payment as well as an additional check of $300,000 if he agrees to no longer see his daughter for a year is particularly poignant as on one hand, you can see how desperation on his part would allow him to sink so low as to seriously consider such a proposal yet on the other hand, his undeniable love for his daughter rises above such petty concerns as money.
Another thing that really struck me about “Vulgaria” is how beautiful it looks. Cinematographer Jason Kwan incorporates a very colorful palette that echoes the early works of Wong Kar-Wai, circa “Fallen Angels.” It’s also indicative of how far Asian cinema has come to the point where aside from obvious factors such as language and cast members, you almost couldn’t tell whether this was made in Hollywood.
As far as I can tell, “Vulgaria” isn’t currently released on Blu-Ray or DVD, though with the positive buzz it’s been receiving on the festival circuit, I suppose it’s only a matter of time before you’ll be able to dig this one up. And dig it up you should, because this one’s a winner.