Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Yuppie Fantasia

The Yuppie Fantasia
Director: Gordon Chan

Year: 1989


There are films that have fine pedigrees that for various reasons over time fade from memory so that now few have heard of and fewer have ever seen it. I would bury Yuppie Fantasia deeply into that ignominious category of bargain bin DVD’s even though at the time it was released it was a box office hit. In particular, this is the sort of film that Western fans of Hong Kong films generally avoid like a contagious disease. This romantic comedy deserves better with a terrific cast and an amusing script. First you have Gordon Chan making his directorial debut. After beginning in the comedy genre, including a number of Stephen Chow films - Fight Back to School I and II, King of Beggars, he began making his reputation in action films with some terrific ones – Jet Li’s Fist of Legend and Beast Cops being two of his best. His first two films though starred Lawrence Cheng, whose popularity as such as it was has always been a minor mystery to me. An actor nearly devoid of charisma or looks, he was I suppose something of a Hong Kong Everyman. Bespectacled, slightly nerdy, always on the other side of a sharp stick or a sharper rebuke, he in his mild way represented the emasculated Hong Kong male much more than a finger twitching star like Chow Yun Fat or a romantic brooder like Leslie Cheung. This screen persona has done him well as he has appeared in nearly seventy films since 1980 up to the present day. He only directed four films but two are favorites of mine, the Chingmy Yau vehicle She Starts Fires and the noirish Murder. He also produced The Yuppie Fantasia so obviously gives himself the starring role in this solid effort.


Some other talent on the screen is Hong Kong’s first lady of comedy back then, Do Do Cheng. The two Chengs appeared in a number of films together. Do Do was a master (or mistress) of the reaction shot and could in the blink of an eye turn into pure perfect shrew with a slew of insults that could make you curl up in a fetus position and pretend to disappear. Throw in a few nubile female stars like Cherie Chung in a surprisingly back-seat role, Elizabeth Lee still fresh off the farm looking innocent and vulnerable and Sibelle Hu playing very much against type as a wallflower wife. Manfred Wong, one of Hong Kong films major producers back then (the Young and Dangerous series) as well as a bit actor in innumerable films, shows up as one of Lawrence Cheng’s cheating friends. Kirk Wong, Alfred Cheung (also a scriptwriter for this effort), Paul Chun Pui and Vivian Chow pop in for cameos. All in all this is a quality effort with talent on both sides of the camera.


It’s that seven year itch time in the marriage between Leung (Lawrence Cheng) and his wife Ann (Do Do) but though often irritated with one another Leung is not straying from the reservation as both his friends Q Tai (Manfred) and Pierre (Peter Lai) are doing with younger paramours. Marriage for Leung and Ann has entered that contractual stage where sex is a commodity and the major bargaining chip in the relationship. Leung says to himself and the audience “My wife would be the best woman in the world provided all other women dropped dead”. He nearly begs his FX trader wife to take her eyes off the green computer screen and have a little “see-saw” with him. Ok she grudgingly agrees but no more than 10 minutes. When he moans a little she hits him with the “you never need ten minutes anyway so why are you complaining” zinger. An arrow straight to a man’s heart and other regions even when true.


Frustrations and mistaken intentions drive them into a legal separation with divorce scheduled three years away.  The pain of separation is made oh so much easier when Leung literally bumps into Cherie Chung back at the advertising agency where he works. She turns out to be his new demanding boss and they soon occupy a closet together for an uncomfortable night of doing their best to stay out of each other’s way. Another woman comes Leung’s way as well – his old girlfriend Jenny (Elizabeth Lee) when he was fifteen years old who is on the rebound from her married boyfriend. She moves in and they share the same bed. But little else as this is your typical innocent harmless family fare where you can be pretty sure marriage will win the day. Leung says of Jenny with total honesty “her strong suit was 36-24-36”. I could add to that, but others might disagree. A few funny parodies take place, Leung with matchstick in mouth doing The Killer by placing hidden condoms around his apartment to be handy from any place and a Mr. Boo moment that you see coming from miles away but is still satisfying primarily because you get it.


My Rating: 6.5