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Every bit as enjoyable and hilarious as a Chinese New Year movie should be, this is your sure-fire bet at a feel-good time
Another Lunar New Year, another 'All's Well Ends Well' movie- but really if they are as high-spirited as this year's entry, we wouldn't mind if they went on for many more years to come. Reuniting the star-studded cast of last year's entry, as well as the writing/ directing duo of Chan Hing-Ka and Janet Chun, this year's 'All's Well Ends Well' is in fact the most consistently and unexpectedly entertaining entry since the franchise was rebooted four years ago by producer Raymond Wong.
And as usual, Wong himself plays one of the four main lead characters in the movie, this time as a recently divorced lawyer trying to win the affection of his teenage daughter (Karena Ng from 'Magic to Win'). Depressed that she refuses to speak with him, he takes up an online offer to be father to a rich young girl Cecilia (Yan Ni) in order that she be able to choose among three suitors. In turn, he comes up with several ways to test the sincerity of their love for Cecilia, including inviting them to a game of mahjong in a haunted house- where Wong gets to riff on his 'Happy Ghost' screen persona- and surrounding them with female company at a karaoke nightclub.
Through the same website, a romantic novelist Hugo (Chapman To doing an obvious impersonation of director Peter Chan) accepts an offer to befriend Charmaine, a blind dancer from an orphanage. Hugo (or Qin Cheng-Wu as his pen name goes) is nursing a sore ego from his publisher's blunt but honest words that he isn't the dashing handsome persona of his books, so making friends with a member of the opposite sex might just be the medicine he needs. In the process, Hugo proves to be quite the man with the gentle heart, tapping on her imagination and her other senses to create the experience of going to the beach and standing on top of the highest building in the world.
Meanwhile, a physically buff and therefore confident Holland Kin (Louis Koo) agrees to model for a photographer Julie Sun (Kelly Chen)- though because of his inexperience, Julie takes the advice of her mentor Shalala (previous series regular Ronald Cheng in a cameo) and pretends to be enamoured with him in order to get him more at ease with his masculinity in front of the camera. Naïve as he is, Kin falls in love with Julie- and in one of the most hilarious sequences of the film, picks up tips from his fellow co-workers (among them character actor Lam Suet) on how to proposition her with both an 'invitation' gift and a 'make-up' gift.
Last but not least among the lead characters is Carl Tam (Donnie Yen), a singer formerly of the band Moment who doesn't realise that he- like his '90s rock star getup- is way past his prime. Carl offers to help Chelsia (Sandra Ng), another has-been singer who was one half of an all-female duo until her unceremonious fall on stage during a live performance. Chelsia has since all but given up on her career, preferring instead to rely on her sometimes abusive boyfriend for cash- though after trying but failing to chase her out of his apartment where she insists on bumming until she can find her own place, Carl begins to see an opportunity for the both of them to regain his past glory.
Forming a loose connection among the four disparate stories is the website from which these random strangers get to meet their respective other halves, simply called 'Baoxi.com' in line with the title of the film. We'd admit that it sounds a little contrived, but at least both writers are savvy enough not to purposely shoehorn the individual stories at the end so all the actors and their characters can share the same screen.
You don't expect as well for each of the stories to be as well-developed as the other, and the two that stand out are Donnie Yen and Louis Koo's portions. While his earlier comedic turn in last year's 'All's Well Ends Well' was simply content to poke fun at his iconic 'Ip Man' by getting him to play a makeup artist with the trademark moves, Hing-Ka and Janet have thankfully created quite the original character here for him to flex a different set of muscles. Not only does he get to sing some signature Sam Hui tunes like天才與白痴(or literally 'Idiot or Genius'), Donnie also gets to dance Bollywood-style- and the gongfu actor is a hoot hamming it as the rocker, whether singing or dancing, with a deep passion for his genre of music.
Donnie's stoic demeanour fits his character like a glove, and complements Sandra Ng's brilliantly understated turn. Sandra proves once again her worth as a true-blue comedian, and her faux-80s MV with Kristal Tin as the other half of the pop duo is a sheer delight. Ditto for Louis Koo's over-the-top performance ribbing his own macho man image, posing and preening for Kelly Chen's photographer in some of the most exaggerated manners. The rest of the cast are somewhat hemmed in by their less interesting characters, but their jolly aura- as well as that of the list of cameos (Ronald, previous series director Vincent Kok, Lee Heung-Kam and Ha Cheung Chau)- is still as infectious.
And indeed, the fact that 'All's Well Ends Well 2012' leaves you with a big smile and in a jocular spirit is reason enough to catch it. Sure the ending is predictably happily-ever-after and the plotting is a tad too convenient at times- but the jokes mostly hit their mark, and the cast are just too enjoyable a crowd to resist. It's a sure-fire for a feel- good- perhaps even feel-great- time in the cinemas, and you'll probably be hard-pressed to find another just as excellent way to 抱喜 (or literally 'hug joy') this festive season.
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