Unarguably a cinematic rendition of 2003's leading news item was inevitable. Tragic and destructive, the Spring time epidemic left an indelible impression on all those living under its shadow. Working with these sentiments should have borne a retrospective bristling with critique and sharp-witted commentary, seeing the volumes waiting to be said of SARS' mysterious arrival and traumatic tenancy. However, no such luck in store for us. The first of two major related productions, Stephen Cheung's piece comes from HK, where the coronavirus struck with awesome effect. Another runner-up, produced in the mainland and reportedly starring Gong Li, remains an unknown quantity but hopefully was conceived with a bit more acumen. City of SARS' premise diverges to cover three elements representing society's reaction to the disease. First come medical workers, doctors and nurses, all depicted as courageous fighters wrestling with doubt, pressure from family members to quit their hazardous jobs and the specter of looming death. Then on to infamous Amoi Gardens, whose residents were promptly evacuated to a dilapidated quarantine facility on the outskirts of town. There, special ties and blossoming love found root among desperation and outright boredom. Finally, brief mention of the business community's struggle to stay afloat was dished by casting usually excellent Eric Tsang as a buffoonish KTV/restaurant tycoon heading towards bankruptcy while trying SARS as means to commit tongue-in-cheek suicide. Granted, several stars lent their face-presence to Cheung's flick, but with a completely inappropriate comic air pervading most of its scenes they were ultimately wasted. In fact, only a few minutes during the resident quarantine segment were genuinely moving. Worst of all, the movie opted to refrain from showcasing authorities' ineptitude and deceit, ending on a false patriotic tone amid cute kids scampering about beneath a huge Chinese flag. Such absolute lack of taste offends affected lives and makes City of SARS a wholly irrelevant release.
Rating: * 1/2
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