The last time Leon Lai attempted to use film to sell his record label’s pop stars was the dreadful 2006 direct-to-video “film” A Melody Looking. Directed by Lai himself, the expensive music film was plagued by cringe-inducing dialogue, horrid acting, and Chapman To singing in a Chinese fisherman’s straw hat. Four years later, Leon's demonstrates that he’s learned his lesson by not putting his name anywhere in the crew list of Frozen, a fantasy-drama and yet another attempt by the Heavenly King to sell his group of young pop stars.
Leon’s second step in his redemption: hiring Derek Kwok, who has actually delivered quality work like The Pye-Dog and Gallants, to turn a glorified pop star showcase into watchable cinema. However, even Kwok seems to have fallen under the powerful grip of Leon and his fellow executives, delivering a film that isn’t bad enough to co-feature with A Melody Looking in some specialty cinema's sadistic bad movies marathon, but will nevertheless end up in the discount bin in six months or so. Its best possible life: as a camp film with plenty of unintended forms of enjoyment.
Even though Kwok's name is all over the film - he's one of the two screenwriters, and his Gallants co-director/co-writer Clement Cheng also reportedly did uncredited work on the screenplay – Kwok’s body of work thus far has been so solid that it's hard to imagine someone can voluntarily demonstrate such a free fall in quality. Hence, the blame most likely belongs to whatever authority decided that singer Janice Vidal (who was also in A Melody Looking) has earned her way into a starring role.
Vidal stars as Wingz, a Chinese-American girl who grew up in the States with her father (Alfred Cheung) and her scientist grandfather (Ti Lung), and believes that her mother died long ago. The family returns to Hong Kong for a cryogenic research conference, but dad suffers a seizure and soon dies. Like all good fathers, he leaves two parting gifts for his daughter: the revelation that he's not her birth father, and a key to a laboratory in the basement. There, Wingz uncovers a machine that has kept her mother Monica cryogenically frozen for the last two decades so that modern medicine can revive her from her fatal illness back in 1989.
Monica is played by Janice Man, who, unlike Janice Vidal, has actually acted in a few films. Man’s previous roles were not notable, but she manages to show more life and emotion than the other Janice even when buried under a flamboyant 80s hairstyle and lots of makeup. The core relationship of the film, however, isn’t between Monica and her grown-up daughter, but between Monica and Kit, who is Wingz’s real father. Aarif Lee, who is already an award-winning actor for his role in Echoes of the Rainbow, plays Kit in the 1988 flashbacks, and he’s perfectly serviceable as a typical youth romance lead who’s only required to look simultaneously adorable and attractively cool. The scenes between the young Monica and Kit sometimes feel derivative of better-made youth romances, but the two actors at least share a fine chemistry as the young lovers.
Frozen would’ve made a likeable nostalgia film had it stuck to the 80s section. Subtle touches from the period, like Boy London watches and the characters’ obsession with Japanese idols, would have been appreciated by those living back then, allowing Frozen to work as a shallow, more polished cousin of nostalgic romances like Tempting Heart. Instead, the film sticks to its contemporary plotline in its second half, when Monica manages to find the middle-aged Kit, who failed in life, now lives on the street and looks a bit like Leon Lai. The boss’ presence in the film isn’t just a simple surprise cameo – he’s in almost half the film.
While the first half of Frozen is filled with abrupt shifts in tone, cringe-inducing dialogue and lackluster acting, Leon’s appearance still marks the beginning of the end. With one of the story’s dramatic motivations (looking for Kit) gone and the other ones (Wingz’s relationship with her newfound mother, Monica dealing with life in 2010) almost completely forgotten, Kit’s redemption suddenly becomes the film’s abstract goal. However, that goal is only an excuse for Leon to hog the spotlight as he indulges in not only Michael Jackson’s signature dance moves (embarrassing), but a cover of a Leslie Cheung classic (even more embarrassing).
The Chinese title of Frozen is named after one of Leslie Cheung’s most popular songs, which explains why the deceased pop legend has a major spiritual presence throughout. However, without anything substantial to say about it, the Leslie Cheung nostalgia seems pointless and gratuitous, as Leon only seems to be using Leslie’s legacy to sell his pop stars. Leon and the rest of the filmmaking team know how to package a film for audiences, but they’re nowhere close to producing a product that’s worthy of their publicity efforts.
Perhaps some fault should fall on Kwok for not containing some mistakes on set, but it’s obvious that certain executives had such a hand in the final product that Kwok might’ve had little choice but to obey. An uneven film with an obvious agenda that has nothing to do with its actual content, Frozen is sometimes ill-conceived, sometimes engaging, and sometimes so embarrassingly bad that it can be unintentionally rewarding. However, that all depends on audience’s tolerance. Fans of the young stars will be happy simply at seeing their idols onscreen, but fans of Leslie Cheung may fume at Leon Lai for implying that he’s worthy enough to channel their Leslie. For everyone else, Frozen shouldn’t provoke such strong reactions because it doesn’t really do enough to earn anything stronger than a sigh or an indifferent shrug. I’m leaning towards sighing. (Kevin Ma, 2010)