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Trivial Matters

(left) Stephy Tang and Gillian Chung, and (right) Stephanie Cheng and Edison Chen in Trivial Matters.
Chinese: 破事兒  
Year: 2007  
Director: Pang Ho-Cheung
  Producer: Chapman To Man-Chat, Pang Ho-Cheung
  Writer: Pang Ho-Cheung

Jan Lam Hoi-Fung, Chan Fai-Hung, Crystal Tin Yui-Lei, Edison Chen, Stephanie Cheng Yung, Kenny Kwan Chi-Bun, Angelababy, Patrick Tam Yiu-Man, Eason Chan Yik-Shun, Chapman To Man-Chat, Isabel Chan Yat-Ning, Zhang Zheng, Lam Yat-Fung, Gillian Chung Yun-Tung, Stephy Tang Lai-Yun, Juno Mak Chun-Lung, Feng Xiaogang, Peter Kam Pui-Tat, Shawn Yue, Conroy Chan Chi-Chung, Jimmy Wan Chi-Man

The Skinny: Amusing but sometimes unfathomable. Pang Ho-Cheung continues to show why he's Hong Kong Cinema's brightest hope, though this exercise in self-amusement isn't the best example. An acquired taste, but still diverting and even entertaining.
by Kozo:

Trivial Matters further demonstrates that Pang Ho-Cheung is Hong Kong's leading young director - even if the movie itself isn't really very good. A dry, witty, and sometimes unfathomable series of vignettes, Trivial Matters is an adaptation of Pang's published fiction, which has earned its own fans due to its cleverness and wit. Pang translates that wit here in a sometimes self-amused fashion, but his usual flirtation with overt cleverness is lost because Pang has subdued his style, opting out of obvious attention-grabbing significance and simply letting the material speak for itself. There are gags and reveals aplenty, but the jokes here seem to be mostly in the content, and less in the actual form. For those tired of the obvious "wink-wink" of Pang's earlier efforts, the change is a good thing. Too bad the actual quality of the stories is so uneven, and even when the film works it's most definitely an acquired taste. Still, as often is the case, even average Pang Ho-Cheung is better than what we usually get.

The English title of this film is very fitting, as that's essentially what the film is about: unimportant matters, though occasionally something greater can be gleamed. Each short story highlights smaller events in its characters lives, sometimes bringing them to a larger significance, or sometimes leaving them adrift. The opening segment is a variation on the "he said, she said" routine, with Chan Fai-Hung and Crystal Tin playing a married couple whose most recent sexual experience is seen in a humorously different manner by each party. The segment kicks the film off in a witty manner, with the droll offscreen voice of Jan Lam (as the couple's therapist) providing the self-referential commentary. The content is snarky Pang stuff, but he lets the content to the talking, and limits his technique to video-recorded interview segments with the occasional cutaway to heavy petting sessions, complete with nudity.

That's right: nudity. In a rarity for a Hong Kong film (and a Category IIB one, no less), Trivial Matters delivers nudity, sexual content, and even drug use. The nudity comes from no-names, with the notable exception of Chapman To, who bares his backside in a sure-to-be scar-inducing case of "too much information". In To's segment, he plays an actor (presumably himself), who meets a Mainland prostitute (Zhang Zheng) at a hotel, and enjoys a brief tryst, before somehow finding a surprising, though likely unfulfilled connection. Nothing new occurs in the segment, and the content smacks suspiciously of cliché. Still, the segment does achieve a quiet poignancy through its actors, and demonstrates Pang's superlative understanding of performance AKA: how to stop your actors from overdoing it.

The same sensitivity with actors shows up in the film's longest segment, starring Stephy Tang and Gillian Chung. The two play old school mates whose lives take different turns, with each having a long-lasting affect on the other. The characters the girls play are both exaggerated and yet real, but the situation is pretty much a snoozer, achieving interest mainly through the male fantasy-fulfilling image of the two female singers decked out in secondary school outfits. And yet the segment still manages to affect, mainly through a good performance from Stephy Tang and the subtle mining of familiar emotions, namely regret, missed chances, and the irony abundant in everyday lives. The segment also features an appearance by once-maligned singer Juno Mak, and possesses an evident and enjoyable affection for Hong Kong and its local pop culture.

Other segments vary in length and effectiveness. The shortest one involves Edison Chen and Stephanie Cheng, and seems to exist merely for its absurd gross-out factor. Kenny Kwan stars in the most stylized segment - depicted in silent, supposedly-aged film footage - about a young man who names a star after his high school sweetheart (Angela Baby). Eason Chan takes center stage for a clever story about a horny dude (Chan), who uses holidays as an excuse to receive fellatio from his otherwise prudish girlfriend (Isabel Chan). This last segment possesses a rather large gag - quite literally - but again, it's handled not through an overuse of showy technique, but through Eason Chan's controlled performance and an unassuming wit that entertains.

Rounding things out is a final segment about a hitman-in-training (Shawn Yue) who's so professional that he abides by working hours, and yet will still interrupt his assignments to share some marijuana with his mark (Conroy Chan). The segment starts in a promising manner, with an amusing and absurd conversation between Assembly director Feng Xiaogang and Isabella composer Peter Kam about the assassination service's bonus scheme. The segment escalates to the actual hit, but then it stalls and pretty much goes nowhere. There's possible implied meaning in the way the segment ends that could mark it as clever, but Pang makes the mistake of delivering a joke that's probably funnier to him than it is to the audience. At the very least, he doesn't try to explain it away, choosing to let his work speak for itself - even if what it says is nothing that substantial.

When Trivial Matters works, it does so because it's relatively restrained, managing humor and some touching moments without going overboard to get the audience there. The cast of familiar names acting against type is another plus, and provides an amusing diversion for Hong Kong Entertainment aficionados. Still, Pang never sustains a thread throughout the film, and as a result it seems to start and stop in noticeable jerks. Some parts work and some parts don't, and true satisfaction by the audience is likely unattainable given the varying success of the differing storylines. It's also hard to really give a massive thumbs up to a film that seems to be more self-amused than anything else, but to Pang's credit, he does manage moments and emotions that can surprise, mainly because they don't announce themselves. Given both Exodus and Trivial Matters, it seems that Pang Ho-Cheung is attempting to refine and develop his voice as a filmmaker - an accomplishment because he's already a better director than most of his so-called professional peers and he's still trying to get better. It's only a bit better than film school work, and more than a few steps below Wong Kar-Wai, but Trivial Matters is a welcome little movie from Hong Kong's best fledgling auteur. His development remains worth following. (Kozo 2007)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Kam & Ronson
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

images courtesy of Golden Scene Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen