Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It's a Great Great World | 大世界 [ Movie Review ] ★★1/2

Last Year Eric Tsang's 72 Tenants of Prosperity was a success at the Hong Kong Lunar New Year Box Office. The movie basically reminiscence the past with various Hong Kong movies actors and TVB television actors. This year, he is back with I Love Hong Kong and here in Singapore, we are getting It's a Great Great World 大世界, a He Sui Pian with similar structure from director Kevin Tong (Rule #1) and the Singapore MediaCorp Artistes.

For the younger folks who don't know about the Great World Amusement Park, it was one of the three amusement parks in Singapore. Back then, they were Singaporean's top choice of entertainment before the onslaught of television and shopping centers. It's kinda ironic that the movie about the Great World Amusement Park are performed with the local television actors. The same bunch of people who are drinking from the well that killed Great World. Bet you never thought of it that way.

Anyway, It's a Great Great World is a rojak mix of good stuff and the not so good stuff. There are moments that it hits the sweet spot that it was going for and there are moments that it just flounder badly.

The film starts with a young fashion photographer, Ah Min (Olivia Ong) doing a final walkthough at her late grandma (Yvonne Lim) photo studio before closure. She came across some of her grandma's favorite photo and decided to set out to find the owners of those photos. Using her grandma's phone book, she managed to locate Ah Meng (Chew Chor Meng), one of the guy in the four photos.

This grumpy old man turned out to be a lok lok (assorted dip snack) seller at the Great World Amusement Park and he went on to tell her about the four individual stories that are attached to those old photos. It felt kinda strange that for someone who missed her grandma funeral and will be heading overseas the next day for work would want to undertake such a mission. But if Ah Min never persisted in such a strange awkward mission, we won't be getting the following four stories.
The first story is about Ah Boo (Henry Thia), a middle age guy who getting all dress up to meet Elizabeth Taylor when she visited Great World Amusement Park's Sky Theatre for a movie premiere. He got his roses and photographer ready but his boss, the ringmaster appeared out of nowhere and forced him back to work. It turned out that Ah Boo was a clown and his boss is a meanie that like to torture his staff to amuse the young audience.

The issue here would be how the filmmakers and cast tried to squeeze humour out of the segment. Is it funny to see a drunken ringmaster bullying his performers? Is the movie trying to say that the kids back then enjoyed such mean-spirited acts? The freak show that the segment is trying to muster is so poor constructed that if that was the kind of acts performing in Great World Amusement Park, it's understandable why the park had to close down. Then there's the lame ideas of helping Ah Boo achieving his objective with Elizabeth Taylor.

However, all the issues with this segment aside, when the movie revealed the final act of the segment, it has a touching quality that was quite unexpected. It has such a heartwarming moment that made all the poor buildup bearable.

The second story is about romance between Mei Juan (Joanna Peh) a game stall vendor and Ah Leong (Zhang Zhen Huan) an ointment seller from a Malaysia kampong. While Joanna Peh and Zhang Zhen Huan looked good as a couple, the setup for these two to fall in love was weak in many ways.

For example, Ah Leong was fleeing from some unsatisfied customers who happened to be gangsters and in an attempt to get away with it, he decided to kiss Mei Juan as a cover up. It's an overused film trick that poor executed here. The situation was not properly set up to make it seems like he had no choice but to force his way with her to escape those that are chasing after him. In fact, it would have been better if he just hide behind the game table. It just hard to believe that the female game stall vendor didn't struggle harder to break away from him (and thus exposing him) and those gangsters would miss all those smooching right in plain sight.

But then again, this segment did managed to have moments that generate the sizzle between these two. Especially the part when Ah Leong dared Mei Juan to take the ghost house ride. It's easily the most funny moment of the show and in the midst of all the spooky comedy, romance between these two character started seeping through. There's also feisty moments when Mei Juan tore down Ah Leong's attempts to be suave that a delight to watch. In the end, it managed to make one root for their unlikely romance and given the weak introduction to these characters, it's impressive in it's own right.

The third story is about Rose (Xiang Yun), an aging singer who stayed on with the Flamingo nightclub because a man once promised that he would return to marry her. 10 years later, Rose had became bitter and drowning herself with liquor to get by. Her performance went downhill and so did her her popularity with the customers. Her manager Peter (Huang Wengyong) stood by her while the other performers schemed to remove her from the nightclub. They decided to place a ring on her dressing table to fool her that her man had finally returned. Rose took the bait and went onstage to give her final performance. It was after she declared her retirement that she discovered that she been fooled.

The story felt rather uneven and naively constructed. It's difficult to believe that a veteran performer would act so rash. I am aware that the movie was going for a lovesick singer who had waited way too long but it's not really well constructed why she would just assumed that the ring is from her dream lover without even seeing his shadow. There were a couple more twists along the way and each twist became more unsatisfying and it's pretty obvious that it's pandering to a happy ending closure.

But nevertheless, Xiang Yun performance was the saving grace of this segment. She switches from a depressed lovesick singer to a revitalized singer effortlessly. She still has that alluring presence that carried off well into the veteran singer role and when she performed the Chinese popular songs such as Méigui méigui wǒ ài nǐ 玫瑰玫瑰我愛你  (Rose, Rose, I Love You), it was a groovy good time that brings back all the charms of old Singapore. It's a pity that there isn't enough screentime and material for her to properly work on her character.

The last story would be one that is close to the narrator's heart. The last photo was a portrait of his mute wife Bee Lian (Apple Hong) and him. It brought back memories of his wedding dinner that he was too poor to hold but his in law (Chen Shucheng) helped him to throw one at Yong Chun Yuen restaurant (one of the famous restaurant that's still around today). While his in law was bargaining about the cost of the wedding banquet with the manager, Japanese started the historic invasion of Singapore. In order to give this newly weds a night to remember, the restaurant staff did something pretty unbelievable.

As again, there's mixed feeling for this segment. The film was trying so hard to show multiple dialects were the norm in back in the old days and attempting to derive the comedy out of the mixture, it just sound a little unnatural and forced. It was also amazing that the restaurant staff would make the decision of staying put during the bombardment. It's clear that they are trying to showcase the sentimentality of Singaporeans back in the old days but then again, isn't it foolish to risk the lives of the customers when Singapore are getting bombed?

But as again, it managed to achieved some touching moments. Especially when Bee Lian made a silent pledge as a wife to Ah Meng when we were aware of her fate from the beginning. Even though it's rather foolish, it's still heartwarming to see the restaurant staff mustering up courage to be defiant in the face of the impending invasion.

Stories aside, it's going to be a tough challenge to reproduce The Great World Amusement Park. The production set and the manner the movie was frame told tell tale sign of budget constrain. The indoor sets and stalls looked like something borrowed from the Singapore television program back in the 80s and 90s. There are also far too few Calefare (extras) to make the Great World Amusement Park convincing as the bustling place that folks flock to in the olden days.

Then there's the amount of dialects used in this movie. Normally dialects help to bring a form of authenticity to the people and time that the film is trying to represent but it felt that some of the cast are having a hard time with the dialects.

Comparing to the Hong Kong Lunar New Year flicks out this year, It's a Great Great World felt dwarfed by the experts in such genre. This movie felt like a telemovie that's out to cash in on the Chinese New Year crowd and the production felt rather rushed with budget constrain. There are quite a few moments that's really good but it's a pity that the journey there were marred with bad story planning. Personally it's hard to recommend this movie but I heard that there are people who liked it and personally know some who thought it was quite well made for the genre that this movie falls in.

1 comment:

  1. Props were poorly researched. e.g. The F&N soft drink bottles in the Restaurant scene is from 1980 and not the 1940.. should be this: