Vulgaria director Pang Ho-cheung's new comedy is similarly bawdy
WHEN HIS GOOD FRIEND and fellow filmmaker Pang Ho-cheung instructed him to "dress better" for a brief location shoot, Matt Chow Hoi-kwong put on a new outfit and duly arrived at the scene in Tseung Kwan O. In the middle of the street, Chow was told to lie down and, before he knew it, had syrupy fake blood poured over his entire body.
It turned out they were shooting a murder scene. Right after the filming was finished, the actor was the only one left behind. "I was this one person, thoroughly covered in 'blood', standing helplessly outside Po Lam Estate. I tried to cover myself with my hands and I had no idea what I could do," Chow says of his experience of playing the unpaid leading role in Summer Exercise, Pang's self-financed 1999 indie short.
"Two thoughts crossed my mind at that moment. The first was, 'I will never make a film for you again, Pang Ho-cheung.' And the second was, 'Pang Ho-cheung, you will get to the top, because every successful director is inconsiderate like this!'"
Fourteen years later, Pang has become one of Hong Kong's most bankable directors and its reigning king of comedy. What's more, Chow - so effortlessly riotous as a tobacco control officer in Pang's Love in a Puff (2000) - is again cast in a major role in a Pang-produced effort.
Developed from a serialised short story by Pang, SDU: Sex Duties Unit is the latest in a recognisable line of bawdy comedies that he has either directed or produced, such as last year's aptly titled Vulgaria.
Scattered with nudity, homophobic gags and jokey film references, the film follows a team of four Special Duties Unit members (Chow, Shawn Yue Man-lok, Derek Tsang Kwok-cheung and Chapman To Man-chat) as they struggle to find their way back home after smuggling themselves to Macau for an intended "fun" weekend at its nightclubs and brothels.
While its main cast consists of many of the filmmaker's regular actors, Pang has left the new film's directing duties to Gary Mak Wing-lun, known for his work on police dramas.
But the first, and most important, of the series of offbeat decisions surrounding SDU actually took place some six years ago, when Pang was invited by a friend to write for a magazine. "At the time, I asked him whether I could write on any topic. My friend said yes," Pang recalls. "And I just went crazy and ended up with a story about SDU members looking for prostitutes.
"The problem, unfortunately, was that it was a free magazine that was distributed everywhere. So you had children in McDonald's reading a story about SDU members looking for prostitutes. Their parents found out, and made a big fuss about it. The serialisation was eventually cut."
Several years later, when it came to making this film, it was easy enough for Pang and his posse to fill out the cast. Actor Shawn Yue has known Pang since the 2002 indie feature Leaving in Sorrow (which Pang helped write), and he describes the filmmaker as "a very clever director" and "a big kid who just wants to enjoy himself".
"Whether he's making a romance or a relatively serious movie, Pang's films are always hilarious," says Yue. "His movies are both great fun to make and to watch. I hope we can keep making movies together with this team, because everything just clicks."
Derek Tsang has regularly worked with Pang over the years. Since becoming friends while working on AV (2005), Tsang has co-written and appeared in two Pang movies ( Isabella in 2006 and Dream Home in 2010) and had a cameo role in a third ( Love in the Buff in 2012). In the intervening years Pang also produced films that Tsang co-directed with Jimmy Wan Chi-man, such as Lover's Discourse (2010) and Lacuna (2012).
"We've been making movies [of a similar style and content] because we're the so-called younger generation of film people in Hong Kong," says Tsang. "We keep working together as we have very similar movie tastes. We don't bother ourselves too much with [limiting the controversial side of] the story. The most important point is that we end up with something playful and entertaining. Let's not worry about our image or making enemies with whomever. We'll simply give it our all."
As in other Pang productions like Men Suddenly in Black (2003), AV, Love in a Puff and Love in the Buff, SDU is populated with immature male characters who think little about their personal flaws and a whole lot about sex.
"The roles depend on our acting skills," says Chow on the films' shameless nature. "When I was growing up, there were a lot of bad boy comedies. There's only The Hangover now, but, back in the day, we loved to watch Porky's (1982) and many others."
Yue and Tsang also cite other raunchy classics - including Hong Kong's The Romancing Star series of the late 1980s along with Hollywood's American Pie films - as justification for their brand of comedy. A resolve to bring back local cinema's capacity to shock and surprise, at least before the sanitisation of the Hong Kong-mainland co-productions make that financially improbable, is commonly shared among the actors.
"Nowadays, this type of movie is getting rarer and rarer, as the viewers have turned their attention to CG and big production values," Chow adds. "I'm quite happy to see Pang continue to make movies of this type because no matter how well a person behaves, or how nice he tries to be, he still has a naughty side. He's still interested in seeing other people misbehave. These films give you the room for fantasy."
As for his admirably dirty mind, Pang stresses that he actually has "some very healthy topics in mind as well". After revealing that he's working on a children's book with the popular local illustrator b.wing (Bien Yip Wing), the filmmaker told me about a real-life situation that would give anyone who's seen Vulgaria an acute sense of déjà vu.
"My elder brother has a daughter and a son," says Pang. "I've always wanted to make some creative works for them, and not just …" He pauses and starts again."They always ask, 'So what does second uncle do?' And I'm lost for words, because one story of mine [in Vulgaria] is about having sex with a mule; another [also in Vulgaria] is about fellatio with popping candy; and this new movie SDU is about finding prostitutes in Macau."
He bursts into not-so-embarrassed laughter, before adding, "But I think I'm not only about those stories. I have a variety of creative ideas. I care about other things as well."
SDU: Sex Duties Unit opens on July 25