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Frugal Game
Chinese: 慳錢家族

"Boy, she's a real $%&@ to work with."
Carol Cheng and Miriam Yeung

Year: 2002
Director: Derek Chiu Sung-Kei
Cast: Eric Tsang Chi-Wai, Carol Cheng Yu-Ling, Miriam Yeung Chin-Wah, Eason Chan Yik-Shun, Lai Yiu-Cheung, Josie Ho Chiu-Yi, Conroy Chan Chi-Chung, Yiu Tak-Sing, Woo Ying-Man, Chan Man-Lui, Lee Shun-Yan, Tsang Kan-Wing, Jimmy Wan Chi-Man, Ti Lung
The Skinny: While low-key in the laughs department, this Derek Chiu-directed comedy proves accomplished in many other ways. Frugal Game possesses a welcome and even comforting message, as well as canny performances from a fine ensemble cast.
by Kozo:

Like last year's Dummy Mommy without a Baby, Derek Chiu's comedy Frugal Game takes its cue from Hong Kong's economic woes. Both films feature protagonists who are victims of redundancy, and who cheat to gain money and beat the system. And, both movies also feature Miriam Yeung Chin-Wah. The similarities end there. Sure, both movies ask that their characters be forgiven for chicanery in the face of economic depression, but Frugal Game actually makes its characters likable.

Wai (Eric Tsang) is the father of two kids, the elder of which is college graduate Chin-Wah (Miriam Yeung). Without a job since graduation, Chin-Wah handles the home while Dad is off working at a hotel. Or so he says. In fact, he was laid off months earlier by evil supervisor Diana (Carol Cheng). Wai now passes his time in a fast food restaurant along with numerous other unemployed workers, all using their cell phones to hunt for jobs or even run their businesses. Things are so dire that when the restaurant advertises for cleaning people, some even offer to work for food. It's almost like Silicon Valley.

However, Wai gets an offer from the newly-unemployed Diana. She wants to compete in "Frugal Game," a reality TV show where families of unemployed individuals compete. She's unmarried (and is actually a sugar mommy to jerky bastard Conroy Chan), and wants Wai's family to create the family of four that's required to compete. Though hesitant, Wai and his family eventually agree. The contest runs like this: each family lives in an assigneed candy-colored apartment for a week, and has only 500 HK dollars to spend. They can't get help from specific external forces (i.e. charity, friends, etc.), and must pay to use the apartment's numerous facilities (TV, bathroom, and utilities). At the end of the week, the family with the most money wins.

The actual game show contest is where the majority of the film's comedy takes place. The opposing family features Lai Yiu-Cheung and Josie Ho in broad comic performances, and we're really not supposed to take them seriously. However, whatever shtick occurs in Wai's family is meant to speak volumes about their unity and trust as a family, which isn't there because Diana isn't really a member of the family! She's just a hanger-on who wants the money for herself. Carol Cheng has a difficult job of making Diana likable, but thanks to some plot twists and Cheng's long-missed presence, she pulls it off.

Faring even better is Miriam Yeung, who manages to use her usual comic persona for an effect greater than reactionary laughs. Chin-Wah is essentially the center of the family, and Yeung's endearing energy makes rooting for the Wai family easy. Eason Chan turns in a surprising performance as director Siu Hap ("Little Hero"). He's the director of "Frugal Game," but he actually wants to make kung-fu dramas starring Ti Lung. He also gets the budding romance with Chin-Wah, and despite the obviousness of the subplot, the two actors make it work with fine chemisty and (unusually) subdued acting.

With all that going for it, it's surprising that the film never takes off as a truly winning comedy. This might be the fault of director Derek Chiu, who isn't a very strong comedy director. Dramas or thrillers are his usual bag, and the thoughtfulness he lends Frugal Game is as energy-sapping as it is affecting. He makes the material more worthy than ninety minutes of fluff, but he doesn't punctuate the comedy well. The gags are almost an afterthought to the film's underlying themes and its ultimate message.

Thankfully, that message is a timely and even worthy one. The film reminds us that honesty and hard work - even in the most seemingly undesirable jobs - has its rewards, and may eventually lead to more results than initially imagined. The result of the game show shouldn't be what we're left with, and it's not. Instead, we are reminded that what matters is what people do with what they already have. And while some might decry that as saccarine wishful thinking, it's probably the right message to throw out in these uncertain economic times. (Kozo 2002)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Universe Laser
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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