Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Escape From Hong Kong Island (Mak Dau Sin Sang) - Simon Lui - 2004

A little known satirical comedy from China, Escape From Hong Kong Island follows a ruinous day in the life of Hong Kong stock market trader Raymond Mak (Jordan Chan), a despicably cruel hearted yuppie who arrives at work to find that he has been fired as his colleagues can no longer bear to work with him. He arranges another job with a rival firm that is his as long as he makes it to their offices for 5pm that day to sign the contract. This rival company’s office happens to be across the bay in Kowloon. What should be a simple trip across the harbour turns into a catalogue of disasters as he is mugged of his cash and identity and struggles to acquire the money he needs to make it across. Will he make it in time? And more importantly, will he learn a valuable life lesson along the way? (I can’t believe I just wrote that...)

Most of the humour in the film derives from the fact that our character has such a simple task that he cannot complete, all he needs is a few dollars to make it across yet his crippling character fallacies prove to cause him countless problems in even acquiring this minute amount of cash. Jordan Chan succeeds in making Raymond a seemingly irredeemably cold hearted bastard. This is a man who upon finding out that his mother (whom he hasn’t seen in years) is virtually a vegetable after suffering debilitating Alzheimer’s disease, is only concerned as to whether she left any change lying around for him to steal.

The film also succeeds in its broad satirical stabs at post colonial Hong Kong life, we are presented with a hyper modern westernised city suffering the worst excesses of dog eat dog capitalism, where vacuous materialism is the key to social acceptability and friendships are based purely on what can be financially gained from such acquaintances. The film makes clear the ever widening gap between the Island’s Dom Perignon quaffing, $200 lunch eating elite and the underclass of 6 to a room squalor. Raymond also sees himself constantly held up by the frustrating petty bureaucracies of state officialdom and the absurd red tape and rule systems of corporate holdings.

Unfortunately the look of the film sometimes comes across as rather cheap, as director Simon Lui chose the make the film on low quality DV, and pays for it with that classic washed out look leaving all white background images to suffer from retina scaring flashes of blinding light.

Also as the film proceeds you get the uncomfortable feeling that the film will eventually give in to saccharine melodrama, and the last ten minutes does indeed allow the worst excesses of Hollywoodised ‘life lessons’ and A Christmas Carol esq moral redemption to come into play. Also its representation of the neon swirl of the contemporary Hong Kong metropolis pales when placed next to something like Christopher Doyle’s stunning work on Wong-Kar Wai’s Chungking Express (1994).

Still though for the first 80 odd minutes this makes for an entertaining slice of classic shadenfreude, and is well worth an evening’s entertainment.

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