|Proven talents collaborate for Black Comedy. Proven to be not very good, that is. Wong Jing, Hong Kong’s leading purveyor of lowbrow filmmaking, and Wilson Chin, the mastermind behind the appalling Lan Kwai Fong movies, join forces for this average comedy that occasionally entertains despite its flimsy premise and labored execution. That’s far from a ringing endorsement, but Wong Jing films are hard to quantify with simple ratings of good or bad. They’d have to aspire to be good for that sort of evaluation.
Wong Cho-Lam stars as Johnny Du Kei-Fung (a play on Johnnie To’s name), a surprisingly capable cop who is turned down for his dream job - a spot on the G4 Team, the official protectors of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive - because he’s too short. He’s also constantly bullied by his bookish girlfriend Angel (Kimmy Tong), leading to self-pitying bitterness and an instant offer from Vincent (Chapman To) a.k.a. The Son of Hell, who’s below quota on his recruitment of souls and targets Johnny’s for damnation. Vincent asks Johnny to sell his soul in exchange for three wishes. Naturally, Johnny agrees, and his first wish is to be chased by a hot girl, who arrives in the form of Juicy (also played by Kimmy Tong). The audience, meanwhile, marvels at the originality of this story.
Black Comedy features OK gags but awful pacing. The film opens with a decent Hard Boiled gun-fu riff, and extra genre goodwill is earned with an appearance by Hui Siu-Hung as an idiotic cop named Wong Kai-Fat (his character in the Running Out of Time movies). However, Wilson Chin doesn’t develop the story beyond its premise, and without a proper story the jokes get duller and more trying with every passing minute. Brief stopovers in trendy bars allow Chin to recycle his flashy Lan Kwai Fong camerawork and techno beats, plus there’s the sight of Jing Girl du jour Kimmy Tong squeezed into a tight mini-dress. That’s great for fans of those films (or Kimmy Tong), though the frequent cutaways to a mugging Chapman To or Wong Cho-Lam kill the glitzy LKF vibe.
The film muddles along until the third act when Wilson Chin upsets the applecart by revealing that Black Comedy actually does have a plot. Johnny’s mind gets stuck in the body of scumbag Ben Chik (Gregory Wong), at which point Johnny uses his new body to pursue the estranged Angel, whom he realizes that he really does love. However, Ben’s horrible girlfriend (Shirley Yeung) and spineless toady (Wilson Chin, doing his now-trademark Psy impression) conspire to submarine Ben/Johnny, and Angel could be caught in the crossfire. It takes way too long for it to happen, but the sudden shift to an actual narrative adds momentum, which is a lot better than having none at all. Black Comedy: It’s a film where you’re happy if anything happens.
The negatives of Black Comedy are too numerous to mention, so let’s look at the positives. Chapman To is, as usual, game for whatever crap he’s asked to do, even if his character is unfathomable and does a complete 180 in the final minutes for no reason whatsoever. Also, a few satirical jokes deserve mention. One joke likens going to Hell to living in Hong Kong, and the film pokes plenty of fun at Hong Kong’s Chief Executive – a crowd-pleasing exercise for Hong Kongers fed-up with their local government. Sadly, the film never outs its Chief Executive stand-in (played by Tang Chi-Fung) as a specific analogue for current Chief Executive C.Y. Leung. Still, the film does beat up on him quite extensively, plus they dump him in a vat of feces. Soaking a political figure in human waste? Hilarity!
Wong Cho-Lam fans will likely be in heaven, as the film is still a somewhat rare starring role for the diminutive comedian. Non-fans will be nonplussed; Wong is actually a gifted comic actor, but in Black Comedy his mugging and overacting are so egregious that he starts to grate. Also, a gag involving Johnny Du’s super-long armpit hair becomes a key callback that attempts to inspire both laughs and feels from the audience. Seriously? Is long armpit hair what passes for creativity nowadays? Ironically, Black Comedy might actually have been better if it was even grosser. As is, the film is really not worth recommending, but if you’re partial to the actors or the joys of substandard filmmaking – which, to be fair, actually describes a portion of the moviegoing audience – then this could work for you. However, if neither definition fits you then staying away from Black Comedy is best.