PiFan 2012 Review: VULGARIA is Lewd, Crude & Flat-out Hilarious

James Marsh, Asian Editor
[After bagging the Netpac Award at PiFan last week, and enjoying weekend previews in Hong Kong ahead of its theatrical release next Thursday, now seems the perfect time to revisit my review from HKIFF back in March]

Not content with having secured the opening night slot and a probable box office hit with his new rom-com sequel, Love In The Buff, writer-director Pang Ho Cheung has completed another uproarious comedy that will also debut at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival. Vulgaria stars Chapman To as a frustrated local movie producer, struggling not only with financing his next project but also with the collapse of his marriage. 

During a staged interview before an audiatorium of film students, second tier producer To Wai Cheung (Chapman To) discusses the obstacles facing the city's ailing film industry, spinning numerous outrageous anecdotes about the sacrifices he must make in his personal and professional life to get projects made. After comparing his role as being the "cushion of pubes" between the investors and the crew, To recounts an incident in which he was forced to turn to an unscrupulous mainland gangster (Ronald Cheng) for funding. Not only are To and his buddy, Lui (Simon Loui) pressured into eating a number of increasingly exotic and unappetising dishes, but discover that Brother Tyrannosaur will only fund their project if they make it a period skin flick starring veteran actress Susan Shaw Yin Yin. Events quickly spiral out of control, and soon enough the prospect of sticking a slice of cow's vagina in his mouth proves the least of To worries. 

 Elsewhere, To's barrister ex-wife is determined to secure sole custody of their young daughter, while his personal assistant, Quin (Fiona Sit) files a harassment charge against him and his crew turns his offices into a photography club for leng mo models and then a gambling den for compulsive housewives. When To starts a relationship with aspiring model/actress "Popping Candy" (Dada Chen), his situation only worsens, but for Pang & his writing partners it broadens the scope for an 80-minute tirade of boob jokes and blow job gags before animal sex runs side by side with incisive satire on the state of Hong Kong's cutthroat survivalist attitude. 

The film's primary target, however, is Cinema itself - from film-going to film-making, and the script is packed with jokes targetting everything from Hong Kongers' sliding in-cinema ettiquette to our current fascination with big breasted airheads. Vulgaria pokes fun at Christopher Sun's 3D Sex And Zen and how it almost runed the careers of its stars, while simultaneously giving them household name notoriety, as well as the city's strained and complex relationship with its northern motherland. Where there is a gag to be made, Pang goes for it in the most vulgar of manners possible and there is no better on-screen cypher than Chapman To for Pang's particular brand of acerbic wit, and the actor goes shamelessly all-out in his role as the increasingly desperate filmmaker. 

Vulgaria doesn't boast much in the way of plot or rigid structure, but its pace, energy and brisk running time combine with a cameo-packed cast list for an exceptionally guilty pleasure that is a uniquely Hong Kong-grown cinematic experience, but one which serves to highlight precisely what its citizens laugh about, obsess over and gossip about incessantly, whether at work, at home or in bed. Hardly the high-brow social commentary Pang has touched on in the past, nor much of an advancement of his technical cinematic skills, Vulgaria is nevertheless flat-out hilarious. After all, what's not to love about the prospect of a grown man fucking a farm animal?
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