Friday, May 21, 2010

Wong Jing, Teresa Mak and "Love Me, Love My Money"

Wong Jing has been successful and controversial for decades. One of the most prolific filmmakers in Hong Kong in the 1980s and 1990s when movies came out faster than the distributors could get them on the screen. Strongly rumored underworld ties in a business that is rife with them; master of the casting couch in an industry that features unbalanced power relationships, unbridled concupiscence and ready availability of targets; schlock auteur when schock was king.

He is a very skillful director, something that can be overwhelmed by the baggage that he has accumulated over his career or simply overlooked because so many of the movies with his name on them seem shoddy and slapdash. What you think of Wong Jing depends on what you best remember of his work--and anyone who is a fan of Hong Kong movies has seen a good deal of it. He has also, to those for whom such things are important, introduced and featured a lot of beautiful and often talented actresses to the jade screen.

The ongoing discussion/dispute of his place in the art and commerce of film was continued on a couple of blogs recently although the post in question in neither blog concern Wong Jing. YTSL reviewed Future X-Cops while Glenn, kenixfan did Girl With the Diamond Slipper. Commentors (including me) were more interested in discussing Wong Jing than the movies at hand.

The reviews by YTSL are yet another reason to visit her blog--as if any more were necessary--something I should have remarked on before (or may have already). She is a terrific observer if film (and much else) and probably couldn't write a bad sentence if she tried.

I have agreed wholeheartedly with the last several of Glenn's reviews but the real gems of his blog are the essays and photos on his recent trips to Hong Kong. Glenn is an intrepid traveler--after wondering about Hong Kong for years he simply got on a plane and got off 16 hours later, ready to see, hear, smell and taste the place. He writes very well about his experiences and does so without the commercial sheen that "travel" writing always has.

Getting back to Wong Jing, while not a fan of his as such--I won't be standing in line when the 250 DVD set of his definitive works is available--I think that his best movies compare with those done by some of the venerated high priests of the art. A case in point is Love Me, Love My Money which is close to being a perfect romantic comedy and comparable to the best work of Frank Capra or George Cukor.

In Love Me, Love My Money tables are turned, the mighty are brought low and money is shown not to buy happiness. The social order is unthreatened--the banks re-open on Monday morning and the unlovable billionaire who has become a homeless beggar is restored to his billions. The wealthy but insensitve Richard Ma has learned his lesson--which seems to be that if you look like Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and act helpless women, after some hesitation, will line up to help you.

Shu Qi is the chief foil. She plays Choi, a hardworking stockbroker who spends her days pounding the phones along with thousands like her:

Teresa Mak plays Fong her best friend--the buddy role:

Together they are quite a pair:

Other women in Richard Ma's life include Cho Chun who plays Helena the loyal secretary who hasn't had a day off for five years:

Dr. Lam his psychiatrist who would rather get on the couch with him than listen to his problems is played by Angie Cheung Wai-Yee:

Ultimately the woman whose bond with Richard Ma tells the audience that he is not (or not only) a dull boor is Vennessa who who agrees to help him unlike every other former girlfriend Richard Ma contacts. Down to his last few coins he calls Venessa and she arrives in a cab from some far reach of the city, leading a young child and heavily pregnant with another. Vanessa has come across town in the middle of her day in order to give him money—money which she takes from her housekeeping and will have to explain where it went to her husband.

She isn’t surprised that Richard is broke, even saying that he doesn’t look like he has been robbed (the story he gave her on the phone) but that he has gone bankrupt. Vanessa obviously still thinks very well of Richard and while it is clear there is no sexual spark anymore, she is doing a good deed for someone who she knew in the past and who she remembers fondly--Richard must have been a different person at some point.

When she first emerges from the cab the audience thinks this will be a further humiliation for Richard but Wong Jing turns it into a lovely scene that validates Richard as something other than a wealthy jerk. And in some very economical filmmaking, he uses the end of the scene make Choi and Fong think that Richard is taking money from and living off of women, giving them another reason to think he is a cad and a criminal. Venessa is played by Prudence Kao Bao-Yun in this small but crucial scene:


  1. Hey, thanks for the kind words! I've got another 45 or so Shaws to watch and hopefully review. Who knows what my blog will be after that?

    Comparable to "the best work of Frank Capra or George Cukor" -- okay, you be going out on a limb with that one, LOL! I do see your point and I did enjoy Love Me, Love My Money even if my memory of the film is a bit hazy now.

    I appreciate the class idea you highlighted in this film. I don't want preachy movies but I do appreciate it when a HK film tries to be something more than the average piece of product.

    I think Wong Jing, say what you will about him, is savvy enough to know that if a working class audience wants a class subtext, he'll provide one -- the way Maggie Chueng was portrayed in How To Pick Up Girls (I think ) comes to mind.

  2. While I don't seek out every one of Wong Jing's films, I do like them. I thought last year's On His Majesty's Secret Service was pretty hilarious. He is what he is: a commercial filmmaker who gives the people what they want. Besides, anyone who makes fun of Wong Kar Wai in his movies is alright by me! ;p

    I'll look for this one in the bargain rack next time I'm in Chinatown. :)

  3. Hi ewaffle --

    Thanks for the kind words regarding my writings. And let me say once again that I really do appreciate your continued visits and comments on my blog. :)

    Re Wong Jing: his works are such a mixed bag but it's really rare that I've sat through any of his comedies without laughing out loud at least once (the one exception that immediately comes to mind though is "Beauty and the Seven Beasts" (2007)).

    As for the female eye candy frequently on display in his movies: this is why I found it really funny but also rather sweet that the one time I've met Wong Jing -- at the Hong Kong premiere of "The Message" -- his "date" was (according to a friend of mine who should know such things) his sister rather than a nubile starlet! :b

  4. Glenn--I happen to have seen the first several of the SB movies you reviewed and thought your discussion of them was excellent--since I felt the same way about those movies, of course. ;-]

    I not only went out on a limb but sawed it off hehind myself with the Capra/Cukor comparison but for me the clash between hyperbole and measured analysis will see hyperbole winning most of the time.

    duriandave--Wong Jing is the gift that keeps on giving. In addition to his stylistic parodies of Wong Kar Wai (and everyone else) there was his not in the least veiled attack on Jackie Chan in "High Risk" which was funny, gross, and stupid with lots of good action but mainly a take-down of a mega-star.

    YTSL--always a pleasure to visit your blog! While I don't know what Wong's success ratio (however one would define that) on his productions is, it isn't very high. None of us would be happy--or employed--if we got 10% of our assignments done properly which may be pretty close to his ratio of hits and misses.

    Perhaps with him it is 10% good movies and the rest divided among flawed but not bad, bad but with redeeming/watchable parts, unredeemably bad.

    Having his sister as his date for a premiere seems almost perfectly nerdy of him, particularly since he has such an unprepossesing appearance--or so he protrays himself in his films--and is so often in the company of georgeous women.