Starring: Francis Ng Chun-yu, Anthony Wong Chau-sang, Teresa Mo Shun-kwan
Directors: Marco Mak Chi-sin and Francis Ng Chun-yu
Category: IIB (Cantonese)
At a time when the local flavour that distinguishes Hong Kong cinema is increasingly replaced by big budget but bland Pan-Asian tinsel, Dancing Lion has all the makings of a local hero.
A satire that refuses to dilute its indigenous nature, this is literally a Local Production (the name of Dancing Lion's production company) and stars some of Hong Kong's top personalities.
Alas, it also suffers from a script whose construction - or lack thereof - is typical of Cantonese films. Missing the lucidity and insight that could transform its collection of absurdities into a witty whole, Dancing Lion falls below the high bar set by mainland farces such as last year's Crazy Stone.
What makes it all the more frustrating is that Dancing Lion is full of laudable ideas. The traditional lion dance is used as a metaphor for the traditional and pragmatic nature of a city propelled by skill, superstition, and scheming to make a fast buck. Such is the case of the Chan family, an oddball lot that includes Ah Kai (Francis Ng), his divorced sister Sam Mui (Teresa Mo) and their uncle (Anthony Wong - left, with Ng above - largely wasted in an unfunny role). They take to lion-dancing as a harebrained means to become millionaires, and in the process lampoon everything from the media to the government, and local phenomenon such as private kitchens and worm-infested swimming pools.
Scriptwriter Lam Chiu-wing, who also makes a cameo as a befuddled bureaucrat, is adept at piling on the gags and snappy lines, but gets so bogged down in mild set pieces that the film loses its bite. Far from illuminating the foibles and follies confronting the Chans - and, by extension, the Hong Kong public - Dancing Lion uses kid gloves to mock its marks.
Not that there's anything controversial about such targets as deceitful talk shows or phony get-rich-quick schemes, topics we've already seen parodied numerous times on television. It's instructive that one of Dancing Lion's more fascinating scenes is its unscripted conclusion, a four-minute continuous take in which the principals ad-lib as the camera swirls around them.
An original element - particularly for a Hong Kong comedy - is that none of the three main stars has a partner or love interest or, indeed, any interest in a member of the same or opposite sex. That responsibility is taken on by younger cast members Lam Tze-chung (who plays a distant relative) and Gia Lin Yuan (as Sam Mui's daughter), both of whom acquit themselves with humour and uncloying sweetness.
Herman Yau Lai-to's camera makes good use of Hong Kong locations on both sides of the harbour. And, as befitting the title, the lion dances are among the movie's high points.
Dancing Lion is on general release