|Could the timing be any worse for Wong Jing and Lee Kung-Lok's Miss Congeniality
|ripoff remake Beauty on Duty? Financially, Hong Kong Cinema's fortunes are up, but creatively they're not, and the film's retread gags and lousy filmmaking only reinforce that. Even worse, Beauty on Duty arrives amidst scandal. In a supporting role, Jim Chim Sui-Man plays Stephen Sum, a fey parody of ubiquitous TVB general manager Stephen Chan. The parody implies that Chan may be gay, but that's nothing compared to his real-life problem: Chan is under investigation by the ICAC for corruption. Chan is a bit of a self-promoter, so seeing him sent up on the big screen should be harmless fun. Now, given his real troubles, the parody only tastes like schadenfreude.
The bigger issue: beleaguered star Charlene Choi, who seemed to be on a career upswing just recently. She and Twins partner Gillian Chung have a new album in stores, their first since Chung returned from a two-year "rehabilitation" following her participation in the Edison Chen sex photo scandal. However, only weeks before Twins' ballyhooed concert series and Beauty on Duty's release, the media reported of Choi’s secret marriage to her Hidden Heroes co-star Ronald Cheng. Worse, the two are now getting divorced. In Beauty on Duty, Choi plays one of her standard girlish types, but in reality she's not a girl anymore - she's a 27 year-old divorced woman. Choi's ardent fanbase probably expect her to still be fresh, silly and more than a little innocent. Art and life couldn't be more mismatched.
Do these negative vibes affect Beauty on Duty? Not really – except that all this gossip is way more interesting than the actual movie. Lee Kung-Lok, who’s credited as “acting director”, likely did the day-to-day on the production, but this is a Wong Jing movie through and through. The concept is stolen from Miss Congeniality, only it’s much less developed. Rookie policewoman Chung Oi-Fong (Charlene Choi) is assigned to safeguard June (Maggie Li), a contestant in the Miss Asia Beauty Pageant, when June's father (Lam Suet) demands her protection in exchange for providing evidence against crimelord Big Tin (Wong Jing). However, Fong’s father Indiana Fong (Hui Siu-Hung) is leery of his beloved daughter heading into harm’s way, so he helps to assemble a crack team for the assignment. The undercover crew: tough policewoman Iron Mary (Sandra Ng), her old flame and suave cop Lu Chi-On (Lu Yi), and kung fu-kicking SDU officer Donnie Yuen (Fan Siu-Wong).
So Fong is in good hands, right? Actually, who the hell knows? If there’s a purpose in getting all these people together beyond providing roles for stars, then the film doesn’t really expand upon it. Beauty on Duty has way too many characters and sitcom situations. After Fong joins the contest, she becomes popular with the media and very unpopular with the other girls, making her shadowing of June supposedly difficult. At the same time, she starts a flirtation with pageant-employed popstar Jerry (William Chan), which should present a conflict of interest, but doesn’t. Meanwhile, Iron Mary and Chi-On's old flames (Cheung Tat-Ming and Xie Na) show up, turning their love connection into a romantic polygon. TV station manager Stephen Sum (Jim Chim) pretends to be Iron Mary’s boyfriend for no apparent reason, and there may also be a romance brewing between Fong and Donnie Yuen. Finally, the bad guys have a mole in the pageant in Phoenix (Samantha Ko), who’s supposed to kidnap June, but is really inefficient in doing so. The payoff for all these convoluted connections? Hilarity! Maybe.
The huge cast provides some potential for fun, though their actual acting varies. Jim Chim nails his Stephen Chan parody, it’s fun to see Lu Yi and especially Fan Siu-Wong pretend to be gay fashion consultants, and Lam Suet actually turns in a surprisingly good, if totally out of place performance. On the other hand, Cheung Tat-Ming and Xie Na are horribly annoying, and William Chan is basically only here for his dancing. The story doesn't help; scriptwriter Wong Jing uses the Miss Congeniality plot simply as a framework for random shtick, including such Wong standards as humor through hypnotism, itching powder, and groan-worthy wordplay. Bad comic timing abounds, with drawn out verbal gags and too many scenes of the cast standing around and bitching nonsensically. This lazy filmmaking is buoyed by the occasional fun gag, like the guys trying to dispose of a dead body that’s actually alive, or a scene where Fan Siu-Wong and Hui Siu-Hung pilot crocodile suits. But really, it’s not enough.
Of course, audiences have a major reason for watching Beauty on Duty regardless of actual film quality. Namely, they’re fans of either Charlene Choi or Sandra Ng, and in that the film provides its fair share of fan-targeted amusement. Sandra Ng is in fun, if somewhat annoying form, and Charlene Choi brings back the cute, girlish act that made her such a hit with teenagers nearly a decade ago. However, Choi is not really that young anymore. Given her recent personal troubles, the emergence of an adult, or at least more mature Charlene Choi would have been exceptionally welcome. But Beauty on Duty is designed to deliver proven formulas, and as such, Choi simply giggles, mugs and squeals like a barely-out-of-her-teens girl. There’s also lame romance, perfunctory fighting, and lots of people yelling “Go Go Go” in an attempt to charm Love Undercover fans. Yawn. Overall, Beauty on Duty has very little to recommend it unless you’re only in it for Ah Sa or one of her cast mates AND if just seeing those people is enough for you to lay down your dollars. Beyond that, it’s just business as usual for Wong Jing. Unfortunately. (Kozo 2010)