New York Asian Film Festival ‣ 總是有愛在隔離

The 20th Anniversary New York Asian Film Festival takes place August 6th through August 22nd both with both virtual and in-person screenings. Go to nyaff.org for more details.

Watching All U Need Is Love, I was once again (as I so often am), driven to ponder the cultural differences between Asia and America.

Asia gets an all-star comedic romp directly addressing the situation in a comedic, crowd pleasing manner.

America… got a bunch of actors singing John Lennon off-key.

With its elaborate stunts, wild gags and relatively massive crowd scenes, its wild to think this movie was shot in May and June 2020, in the middle of the world coming to terms with its new reality. A massive undertaking organized by the Hong Kong Performance Artists Guild and the Federation of Hong Kong Filmmakers to benefit the people both on and off camera who had been put out of work by the pandemic. A labor of love and a show of unity, the simple fact that the project exists at all is an impressive tribute to the resiliency of the Hong Kong film industry.

But is it a good movie?

At least part of the overall effect is admittedly lost on me, as I barely recognize any of these all-stars; I’m roughly 20–25 years behind in my Hong Kong superstar knowledge. But everyone here acquits themselves well enough with the material they’ve been given.

The movie sets itself up with admirable efficiency, moving all the players into place and trapping them in the absolutely gorgeous Marriott Hong Kong Ocean Park within the first twenty minutes and letting the hi-jinks play out from there.

The film follows several threads:

-Uncle Kau is taken into custody by people claiming to be members of the Epidemic Prevention Operation Unit who say he’s tested positive for COVID and must be isolated immediately. This is quickly revealed to be an elaborate plot by his friends to get him out from the thumb of his wife so he can engage in extramartial fun times at the Grande Hotel.

-Danny is a supercilious hotel concierge with a patently phony smile and an openly hostile attitude towards his suboordinates. Having fired single mother Mango for inefficiency just that morning, the lockdown forces him to hire her back to cover staff shortages, and… well… asshole boss, single mother… this one doesn’t exactly require a roadmap.

-William and Judy are a couple engaged to get married, who were planning on holding a massive banquet at the hotel to celebrate their nuptials. As the lockdown is enacted and Judy’s hopes of the perfect celebration look increasingly bleak, the rifts in their relationship start to come to the fore.

-Two rival crime bosses find themselves trapped in the hotel without their respective gangs. Animosity quickly turns into guarded friendship, and what may or may not be gay panic gags.

  • And finally, in the best thread of them all, the hotel manager Tommy Lee, after a delightfully terrible inspiring speech about rallying in times of adversity, spends the entire movie trying to escape the hotel so he doesn’t get COVID, and completely oblivious to the fact that his assistants are trying to murder him to gain control of the hotel.

None of this goes anywhere you’re not expecting, of course; if you’ve seen a single frame of any movie before, you probably know how each and every one of these stories ends. This is absolutely an empty calorie cinema type situation; clearly, no one is aiming for all-timer status.

And in any other time, that would probably be a mark against it, but given the state of things, there’s both novelty and value in their approach; the film engages with the reality of the moment without the hand-wringing and philosophy and introspection that most real time, pandemic-based art . In that sense, it almost seems ahead of its time.

But that’s putting a lot on a movie that is really nothing but comfort food.

Mostly we’re here to laugh, and like any gag based anthology flick, it’s a hit-and-miss venture. The William and Judy thread is the weakest, as they’re not very pleasant people to be around and the reconciliation at the end rings a bit hollow. And since it pretty much consists of variations of old man not getting laid, the Uncle Kau stuff doesn’t fare much better, The thread with Danny and Mango fares slightly better; in their scenes you’ve got the makings of a decent romantic comedy all its own (Fiona Sit is particularly playful and fun as Mango). But with so many other stories going on, they never get enough screen time to actually play out their dynamic and the switch from enemies to potential partners feels like it’s missing twenty minutes of development.

Julian Cheung and Louis Cheung are a lot of fun as bumbling Triads, and it’s hard to hate on any plotline that undercuts its sentimental resolution by staging it with our two would-be tough guys sharing a toilet during a bout of the runs.

As stated, the Tommy Lee bits are the strongest, because unlike in all the others there’s basically no swerve to sentimentality at the end; it’s just a live action Road Runner cartoon, and all the better for it.

But of course, when you title your movie All U Need Is Love, clearly at some point we’ll be dipping into the maudlin. And the sincerity reads just as false as it usually does in broad comedies that try to make you feel at the last minute. But it seems a small price to pay for the welcome reminder that big stupid laughs can be found in even the most trying of circumstances.

Some day, I suspect this movie will be fascinating as a time capsule of a very troubled, very confusing time. But in this current moment, it’s fascinating as an attempt at escapist entertainment in a situation that was (and is) nothing if not inescapable.


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