A glass act

For someone best known as Fruit Chan Kuo's cinematographer and the brains behind one of the most low-budget but quirkiest films Hong Kong has seen in recent years, Lam Wah-chuen's new directorial outing is a surprise.

A complete volte-face from the grimy aesthetics of The Runaway Pistol (2002), Lam's new film is an unabashed comedy backed by Cable Television's well-funded filmmaking arm.

And with two comparatively well-known celebrities (Cherrie Ying Choi-yi and comedian Dayo Wong Chi-wah) sharing its top billing, Nothing is Impossible is an exemplar of commercial filmmaking, harking back to the starry B-movies of the golden 1980s.

'Directors should be doing different things,' says Lam. 'Chan Kuo is also doing big-budget films these days. If a filmmaker keeps doing low-budget movies he'll run out of ideas.'

Lam joined the industry as a runner in 1983, rising through the ranks until his big break as Chan's director of photography in Made in Hong Kong. He agrees that Nothing is Impossible is a move into the mainstream, after years of independent filmmaking.

'It's like how I don't watch [Taiwanese director] Hou Hsiao-hsien's films any more,' he says. 'However good they are, there's a point where one gets bored.'

Nothing is Impossible certainly won't leave audiences bored. Set in the sleazy drinking dens of Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok, the film revolves around a young woman becoming an expert in the brash hand games drinkers play. Ying is in her element as Vivian, a ladette who causes chaos as she tries to avenge having had her boyfriend (Andy On Chi-kit) taken from her by a rival drinking-game expert (former Malaysian pageant queen Debbie Goh).

Into this triangle comes Kwai, a quick-witted but nerdy game player (Wong, as a cocky anti-hero), who helps Vivian get her revenge - and find redemption.

It all seems a world away from Lam's last film - an alternative take on the road-movie genre, which follows the destructive path of a gun as it's passed from one person to another.

But Lam insists that there's a common thread between the two. 'Both guns and drinking games are objects that can't initiate anything of their own accord,' he says. 'If someone shoots a criminal, then the gun's a weapon of justice. If it's aimed at a police officer, it's a devil's weapon. The same goes for drinking games. Most people see them as crass entertainment, but if they're used to facilitate communication then I can't see why it shouldn't be a good thing.'

What Lam wants to achieve with Nothing is a rehabilitation of chai mui - the Cantonese term for hand games - as a worthy pastime. He and his producer, former director Michael Mak Dong-kit, spent three months trawling Kowloon's nightspots, learning about professional hand-gamers.

What they discovered was in sharp contrast to the usual perception of these nocturnal workers: rather than being involved in a world of misery and exploitation, they found that the young women were proud of their skills.

'There was this gamer who's a queen of tutorial classes by day,' he says. 'I was worried that [the mainland censors] weren't going to let me have her in the film - a teacher who also works at a bar - but they've been really positive.'

Despite the pair's efforts, Nothing is unlikely to make drinking games respectable.

Cable Television - in association with a number of bars and a beer company - has been trying to promote the games, but it's an underdeveloped storyline with hackneyed characters and programmes featuring women hosts baring plenty of flesh. There are odd flashes of Lam's deft visual touch, but the emphasis is on laughs rather.

Nothing is Impossible is screening now