Monday, December 10th, 2007
I’m ready to share some thoughts on HOOKED ON YOU now that I’m back home after a trip to the St. Annie Cake Shop where I redeemed my cake coupons before the store went out of business.
HOOKED ON YOU
Official Site: http://www.hookedonyouthemovie.com/
Director: Law Wing-Cheong
Cast: Miriam Yeung Chin-Wah (Miu), Eason Chan Yik-Shun (Fishman), Stanley Fung Tsui-Fan (Miu’s Father)
Synopsis (from Yahoo! Movies Singapore): Miu (Miriam Yeung) works as a fishmonger at the Fortune Market to pay off the debts of her father (Stanley Fung). She gives herself three years to settle her father’s debts, leave the wet market and find a man worthy of her. At the market, however, she finds herself at loggerheads with Fishman (Eason Chan) in the neighbouring stall. A fierce battle ensues but the two are forced to work together when a new supermarket threatens their business at the Fortune Market. Will Miu find her Mr Right, or is he a figment of her imagination?
PRE-CONCEIVED NOTIONS: I can’t imagine myself disliking this movie. The always reliable Johnnie To is the producer and it stars Miriam Yeung and Eason Chan — two very affable personalities that I’ve liked for years. It’s not an elaborate martial-arts costume epic engineered for the international market or an art film designed to appeal only to film sophisticates. There’s no way this film can turn out to be a stinker — right? The probability of Athena Chu Yan showing up at my front door in a short skirt and a long jacket has got to be higher than the probability of me sitting on my couch disappointed and angry after watching this movie.
AFTER THE MOVIE: As I hoped, HOOKED ON YOU did not disappoint. While a few cheesy elements and some overplayed scenes keep it from being a masterpiece, the movie is thoroughly entertaining and exquisitely captures the bittersweet sentiments of the 1970s classic Cantopop song (”When Change Occurs”) that it bases its Chinese title upon (see below). For the most part, it manages to maintain the delicate balance between being entertaining and being thought-provoking. As a result, it should please both the “artsy” crowd looking for insight and the “fartsy” crowd who just want a good time at the movies.
MORE THOUGHTS (WARNING: Contains spoilers): To me, the most remarkable aspect of HOOKED ON YOU is that it takes what is basically the setup for a disposable light-comedy TVB drama and manages to subtly deliver astute observations about the bittersweet nature of life. The effective incorporation of benchmark events from the ten years of Hong Kong history since the Handover help to highlight the theme that time passes, changes occur, there will be ups, there will be downs, you’ll win some and you’ll lose some so all you can do is move forward and not dwell too much on the past, just cherish the good times and remember the bad times. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by this result because I was expecting a regular, good-ol’ romantic comedy — a well-made one — but routine nonetheless. I envisioned myself sitting on the couch and going “awww, what a nice love story” as I was switched off my DVD player. I was not expecting to be dazzled by philosophical insight.
I’m certain that the “when changes occur” message refers not just to an individual’s life but extends to Hong Kong as well. Clearly, Fortune Market is a metaphor for the Fragrant Harbour. As I don’t live there anymore, I don’t have any sort of feel for day-to-day life in Hong Kong. Therefore, I’m not going to embarrass myself by attempting to explain how the film’s message applies to Hong Kong. I do recognize that it’s there and I’m sure that it resonates somehow with the local audience.
While its philosophical accomplishments are impressive, there are flaws in HOOKED ON YOU that make it just miss the mark of being a pantheon Hong Kong film. The TVB-style setup at the beginning robs the film of a bit of the gravitas required for pantheon status. The Fishman character starts out as a caricature. Miu’s character, and her hard-luck story, come straight out of the TVB drama writer’s handbook. You also have the loveable but irresponsible parent and the local dai lo. I’m not knocking TVB and its dramas. Of the three major forms of HK entertainment: movies, TV serials and Cantopop, TV serials — especially the ones by TVB — are my favourite. If I was an emperor, then TV serials would be my empress while movies and Cantopop would be consorts that I occasionally hang around with. I’m just saying that the low-brow setup and thin characterizations rob HOOKED ON YOU of some credibility preventing it, just barely, from being thought of as a great film. It’s very good and I’ll remember it fondly but I wouldn’t categorize it as a classic.
Speaking of TVB, I’m sure that a graduate student in sociology can find plenty of material for a thesis if they look at TVB and Hong Kong society. While jotting down a few thoughts for this post after I put the DVD away, I couldn’t help thinking of HOPE FOR SALE (街市的童話) — a 2001 TVB drama starring Gallen Lo Ka-Leung, Christine Ng Wing-Mei and Melissa Ng Mei-Hang. In the series, Gallen Lo plays a vegetable-seller who enjoys his simple life working at the wet market while Melissa Ng plays his materialistic wife. She pushes him to “better” himself and leave the market.
If HOOKED ON YOU was a TVB drama, it would have had a much different outcome. Fishman and the way he clutches to the wet market lifestyle would be seen as virtuous while Miu’s quest to leave the wet market would be vilified as materialistic and vain. HOOKED ON YOU’s nuanced message would be replaced by the standard message from TVB dramas: 平凡是福 (ping faan si fuk or “a common life is a blessing”). As TVB is in the ratings business, it has to make product that appeals to its audience so, clearly, something about the “common life is a blessing” theme appeals to Hong Kong society. Like I said, there’s a thesis in there somewhere.
- I’m not a PETA supporter but I definitely felt bad for the eel that Miriam Yeung chops up at the beginning of the movie. Having watched Hiroyuki Sakai and Masaharu Moritomo slice up eels in IRON CHEF episodes, I thought I was de-sensitized to live eel killing but it looked to me that Miriam Yeung didn’t chop her eel all the way through. It must have been in agony as Yeung slid it into that plastic bag. Poor eel.
- Jo Koo, where are you? Right now, if I could have an entertainment circle girlfriend, I think that it’d be Jo Koo (Kuk Tso-Lam). So, it pains me to say that I was surprised when I saw her name in the credits because I didn’t spot her in the movie. Does anyone know who she played?
Yes, if I could have an entertainment circle girlfriend it’d be Jo Koo and if I were a rich man, ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum. All day long I’d biddy biddy bum. If I were a wealthy man.
- Hey, it’s interesting to me! Scanning the credits, I was intrigued by the name Marie Zhuge (諸葛梓岐). Having probably spent months of my life playing various video and computer games based on ROMANCE OF THE THREE KINGDOMS, I wonder if Marie Zhuge is a descendant of the legendary Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮). A Google search yields no pictures but reveals that she is a Canadian (Yeah! Fellow Canadian!) and that she belongs to the same modeling agency as Kathy Chow Man-Kei and Qi Qi. I figure she must be Fishman’s favourite prostitute, Fishman’s wife or the girl who bugs Miu about her age. Anyone know?
- Speaking of the girl who bugs Miu about her age, I liked the way the film used her to help mark the passage of time and advance Miu’s storyline. She started as a young woman cooking dinner for the first time for her boyfriend and ended up as a married woman with child. Anyone know who plays girl who buys Miu about her age?
- Funny, but the last definition of “miss” — the courtesy title before the name of an unmarried woman or a girl — never occurred to me until I read the intertitle. Perhaps it would have had my “mind voice” pronounced it HK-style: “misseee”.
ABOUT THE SONG: HOOKED ON YOU gets its Chinese title from 每當變幻時 (”When Changes Occur”), the hit Cantopop song from 1977 sung by Fanny (薰妮 aka Fun Nei aka Fanny Wong). As you can tell from the following translation of the song lyrics, the movie does a good job of capturing the bittersweet sentiments of the song.
A quick disclaimer, I am not an English major so pardon me if my rudimentary translation does not do proper justice to the Chinese lyrics of Jim Lo Kwok-Tsim (盧國沾). Nevertheless, I think you can get a sense of how well the movie plays upon the song’s message. For your information, the song starts playing at around 1:32:20 of the film.
Thanks to a box of tapes that belonged to my late Uncle Kwok-Hung and a mp3 file from my cousin, I was able to listen to both the Fanny version and the Miriam Yeung version of the song. With all due respect to Miriam Yeung, I think the Fanny version is better. The arrangement and the vocal inflections of the 1977 version suit the wistful nature of the lyrics better than that of the 2007 version.
By the way, does anyone know why it’s virtually impossible to buy Cantopop songs on iTunes? I suspect that it probably has something to do with Hong Kong music companies not being able to adapt to the times. Don’t they realize that if they make things easy and cheap for consumers, most people will take the path of least resistance and buy the songs from a legal source like iTunes rather than waste time searching for illegal downloads on the Internet?
IMAGE CREDITS: Media Asia (HOOKED ON YOU screen captures, Jo Koo), Wing Hang CD Ltd. (Fanny Wong)