Sidekicks put Hui in the shade
LAUGHTER OF WATER MARGINS, with Sam Hui Koon-kit, Teresa Mo Shun-kwan, Ricky Hui Koon-ying and Ng Mang-tat. Directed by Clifton Ko Chi-sum. On Mandarin circuit.
NOTHING sets a new Hongkong movie trend faster than a runaway success. Since The Eagle-Shooting Heroes - Dong Cheng Xi Jiu opened to rave reviews last year, the territory's film-makers have been busy making farces of period dramas.
The products of their efforts have arrived for the summer in the guise of The Flirting Scholar, with Stephen Chiau Sing-chi and Gong Li, and now Laughter of Water Margins .
This film concentrates on a famous chapter from a Chinese classic, The Water Margin, in which Mo Chung becomes the village hero after killing a man-eating tiger. He later kills his adulterous sister-in-law who has murdered his brother.
The only facts retained in Laughter of Water Margins are the names of the lead characters. Mo Chung, played by an oily Sam Hui (he is greased up like a bodybuilder), is a ne'er do well - albeit one with principles - who loses control if he as much as touches a drop of alcohol.
After being mistaken for the tiger-killing hero, Mo lands a job as a policeman in the village where his brother Tai-long (Ng Mang-tat) is running a lucrative business blackmailing the men his wife, Kam-lin (Teresa Mo), seduces.
Reluctant to do away with Hui, Ng makes him an unwilling accomplice.
Hui may have the star billing here but Mo and Ng effortlessly steal the show. Even older brother Ricky Hui manages to outshine him, playing the lecherous village playboy.
In this fast-moving farce, Hui always appears to be a beat or two behind, whether in expression or reaction. It is sad to see this veteran reduced to nothing more than a glistening decorative piece. Director Clifton Ko fails terribly in making his character come alive.
Up to five years ago, a cast led by Hui could guarantee box office - but it is a different ball game these days.
Just as well then that there are Mo and Ng to thicken the watery plot as the unlikely couple. When it comes to timing, they can do no wrong. These veterans of comedy glide through each scene, drawing laughs at every juncture.
In the past year, several dark horses have turned up as crowd-pulling comediennes, among them Wong Wun-si, Fung Bobo and Mo. But Mo is the most versatile because youth is on her side and she is able to play a large variety of roles.
She is the wacky housewife in '92 the Legendary La Rose Noire, the bumbling martial arts exponent in Fist of Fury, and a tomboy in All's Well Ends Well, but her no-holds-barred performance as the vampish Kam-lin here is a sight to behold.
Laughter of Water Margins is not the kind of comedy you will remember once you leave the cinema - very few comedies are these days - but it is worth the admission price just see Mo in action.