Pang Ho-Cheung is arguably the most interesting director working in Hong Kong today. He has an effortless ability to switch genres having worked in dramas, comedies and even horror. The main characteristics of his films are his unique eye towards Hong Kong and how it is today, and the social commentary he packs into them. His latest film is “Vulgaria” which as the title suggests is a vulgar and very funny comedy.
The film is about a producer, To, of low budget “B” grade films who is struggling to find financing for a new film. When he acquires a meeting with a local gangster, Brother Tyrannosaurus, who wants to get into the film business, he thinks that he has finally found his money. However as always, the people supplying the cash want some input into the film being made and Brother Tyrannosaurus proposes a remake of a soft core porn film that he used to love some twenty years ago back when he was a kid. Furthermore he wants the star of the original film to reprise her role in the remake, and he does not care that she is now of an older age. He promises to supply enough money to make the film a big budget affair and To jumps at the chance to work in the big leagues again. To must then work out how to convince an aged and long since retired porn star to return, while finding a suitable body double to ensure the sex scenes will still be sexy for the public seeing the film. As well as all of the regular demands on a film set, To must also consistently deal with his financer who now demands that his “girlfriend” has a role in the film.
The film is told via a series of flashbacks as To is a guest of a film class and is being interviewed by its professor. The class asks To to define exactly what a producer does and what sacrifices he must make to get a film made, and these flashbacks answer the questions being asked. While I found the film very entertaining, and funny enough, the comedy was much broader than I would usually expect from Pang Ho-Cheung. The satire that makes his films stand out in a crowd just isn’t as biting as it normally is. He seems like with “Vulgaria” he is happy enough just to entertain without making serious social commentary at the same time. There is nothing wrong with that, it was just that I was expecting something more substantial. Do not get me wrong, he does make points about the current filmmaking industry in Hong Kong and the difficulties in getting funding (outside of the use of gangsters), as well as the demands of the financers once they give money to a project. He also makes note of how modern technology is important in marketing films in today’s world. He also gets to make fun of or question just how much a producer does on a film.
For a Hong Kong film it certainly lives up to its title, it is very vulgar, as crass sexual comedies are not the norm in the country. One of the funniest gags in the film is the dinner scene with Tyrannosaurus and the kind of exotic dishes that are served to To. He then proceeds to get heavily drunk which ends in a very hazy memory where To cannot remember whether or not he had sex with a mule. This is the kind of humour present in the entire film, it is all mainly sex based so if you are offended by this type of comedy it may be best to stay clear of “Vulgaria”.
As well as the comedy, Pang Ho-Cheung was wise to include a dramatic subplot with To fighting to see more of his daughter then the one day per fortnight he is currently allowed. It adds a little to the film but sadly this subplot is woefully underdeveloped.
Overall, while it is a funny film, I guess I was disappointed by “Vulgaria”. This is mainly due to the broad nature of the comedy (I like my comedy to have a little edge to it). That said, I think it will appeal to a large audience. I will say that I think that Pang Ho-Cheung is the master of scenes that play over the final credits, and “Vulgaria” has one of these moments that is just hilarious, so do not leave your seats early.