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Mr. 3 Minutes
"Yeah! Another movie, another paycheck!"     

(left) Ronald Cheng and Teresa Mo, and (right) Cherrie Ying and Au Ka-Hing.
Chinese: 3 分鐘先生
Year: 2006  
Director: Gordon Chan Car-Seung  
Producer: Gordon Chan Car-Seung, Jimmy Law Kwok-Keung
Writer: Gordon Chan Car-Seung, Abe Kwong Man-Wai, Chung Kai-Cheong, Lau Ho-Leung, Raymond Leung Pun-Hei (story)
Cast: Ronald Cheng Chung-Kei, Cherrie Ying Choi-Yi, Teresa Mo Sun-Kwan, Au Ka-Hing, Richard Ng Yiu-Hon, Theresa Fu Wing, Lawrence Ng Kai-Wah, Hui Siu-Hung, Joe Cheng Cho, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Fung Min-Hun
The Skinny: Don't let the romantic-comedy poster artwork fool you. This awkwardly conceived film derails from mildly-amusing comedy into clichéd melodrama, and the move isn't subtle or earned. Ronald Cheng is surprisingly effective, however.
 
Review
by Kozo:

Get your mind out of the gutter. The title of Ronald Cheng's latest film, Mr. 3 Minutes, has nothing to do with his sexual prowess. Instead, it's a reference to the Japanese icon Ultraman, who can only exist on Earth for three minutes before having to return to his human host. The connection to this film? Well, Scott Chung (Cheng) is supposedly a lucky fellow who makes all his decisions in just three minutes. How that exactly relates to Ultraman is still questionable, but let's pretend the connection isn't paper-thin and buy in.

Anyway, the supposed result of Scott's three-minute powers is his current fortunate lot in life. He's the successful owner of a bridal boutique, and is also renowned as a premier playboy on the upscale clubbing circuit. However, this supposedly hedonistic, self-involved individual receives an unwelcome surprise. At his latest bridal fashion exhibition (which involves all the brides wearing bikinis), Scott meets 10 year-old Wayne (Au Ka-Hing), who he thinks is a pickpocket. He's wrong; much to the avowed bachelor's shock and surprise, Wayne is actually Scott's son.

Well, that's what Wayne says. It's pretty much Wayne's word against nobody's, and Scott and his right-hand woman Jo (Teresa Mo) commission a DNA test right away. However, they have to wait two weeks for the results, which means plenty of time for hijinks and manufactured events masquerading as character development. Wayne takes Scott and Jo to visit his mom, who's pushing up daises at the graveyard, making it hard for Scott to get a face-to-face confirmation of the mother's identity. Obviously, however, the kid had to be living somewhere before, so Scott hires a private dick to shadow Wayne, eventually discovering the kid's current next-of-kin: his aunt, Yuk (Cherrie Ying).

Yuk should probably be punished for leaving Wayne with a bastard like Scott, but she really needed a break from Wayne, as she holds two jobs and has a nonexistent social life despite looking just like Cherrie Ying. Also, Wayne's mother originally wanted Wayne to be brought up by his father, so Yuk gladly obliged by sending Wayne packing to his crappy dad. The lesson here: even being a lousy guardian can be justified in the movies.

The problem is Scott hates kids. At least, that's what the ad copy says, and Ronald Cheng seems to nominally inhabit that role for about fifteen minutes. The height of Scott's cruelty towards kids seems to be telling Wayne that he can't play with his collection of toys, and also attempting to parent Wayne in 3 minutes a day - which, given the whole 3 minute premise, is probably what the screenwriters suppose that Ultraman would do when faced with surprise offspring.

But, in a narrative move that's surprising only to those who've never seen a movie before, Scott grows into the parent role. He befriends Wayne and even tries to help out the sometimes-hostile Yuk. He even dumps his womanizing ways for something resembling warm-and-fuzzy sensitivity. Basically, Scott grows from materialistic, womanizing jerk into an all-around swell guy, leading to smiles all around and an inspirational message for us would-be Scotts. Message to the screenwriters from the would-be Scott club: thanks for the empathy!

Unfortunately, it's hard to buy that Scott is a womanizing jerk because he sure as heck doesn't seem like one. Scott is supposed to be a naughty fellow who thinks only for himself, but the moments that detail this are few and far between. The most evidence we get of Scott's crappy character is him sitting around talking about chasing tail or being a jerk, instead of actually demonstrating this actively. Ultimately, Scott comes off more like a big-talking dope than the active horndog he's reputed to be.

If Scott is really supposed to be a nice guy and not a creep, then Ronald Cheng nails the character from minute one. Aside from not seeming like a womanizing playboy, Ronald Cheng doesn't portray Scott as someone the audience should feel scorn for. He simply seems like a nice guy, such that his ultimate "good father" act is easily believable and sometimes even affecting. Cheng's comic acting can sometimes be a bit much, but he does have a certain charisma, and he can frequently find the emotions behind his characters' annoying attitudes. In Fatal Contact, Cheng gave his wacky sidekick role hidden depth, and likewise he seems to bring more to Mr. 3 Minutes than the script truly provides.

However, that thumbs up to Ronald Cheng comes with a collective slam against the screenwriters. The writers - and there are five credited here - provide plenty for words, themes, and ideas for Mr. 3 Minutes, but not much of it really convinces. For one thing, Scott's character arc seems to be only nominal, and not something that really occurs in the film, as the character itself becomes too nice too early. Also, Ronald Cheng, despite turning in a surprisingly effective performance, seems miscast as someone who's supposed to be a womanizing playboy. Wayne seems too wise for his years, and Au Ka-Hing plays him in a rather unrealistic manner.

The plot also unfolds unnaturally, cramming way too much into just two weeks. Worst of all, the film dips into maudlin and hackneyed sentimentality with a third act plot twist that attempts to add pathos to a film that probably required little. The plot twist happens to be overused (especially in Asian films), and also occurs too late in the film for proper development. The icing on this uneven, soggy cake is a post-credits coda that pretty much undoes whatever poignancy the filmmakers were trying for with their attempted tearjerker ending. Message to filmmakers everywhere: when you try to challenge your audience by subverting their expectations, please stay the course. Pulling into reverse - even after the credits - just makes it seem like nobody behind the scenes has any guts.

Before he became king of semi-authentic action (e.g., The Final Option or First Option), Gordon Chan was once famous for his yuppie comedies, which mixed trite observations on urban life with manufactured sentiment and awkward existentialism. Despite that negative description, the mixture did work back then, as Hong Kong Cinema was messier and sloppier than it currently is, and Chan's attention to solid filmmaking technique (i.e., he wasn't a hack like many of his contemporaries) made him a quality filmmaker when Hong Kong had precious few. Mr. 3 Minutes seems cut from that same cloth, but times have changed, and perhaps Hong Kong Cinema needs more than movies that just seem like they're well-made. They could use consistent characterization and original storylines, not obvious plot devices and undue existentialism. As a director, Gordon Chan is capable of telling these stories, and Ronald Cheng would probably do fine as the lead actor. Which means pretty much one thing: Hong Kong Cinema needs better screenwriters. (Kozo 2007)

 
Availability:

DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Panorama Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese/Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various Extras

*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

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