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Lung (Nick Cheung), a hardworking property agent, is facing a serious situation in life. His girlfriend won't marry him unless he can buy her a 1000-sq ft. apartment in one year's time; whilst Charlotte (Sammi Cheng) desperately needs a place to stay after her divorce. Along with Lung's intern Very (Oho), a mainland richling, they become co-owners of the office girl Hak's (Angelababy) small flat that was left to Hak by her estranged mother.
This film - an odd blend of comedy and drama - is as awkwardly constructed as the temporary family of its title.
The themes of limited land space and skyrocketing property prices that underpin Temporary Family will resonate with all Singaporeans. After all, in Hong Kong and in this tiny island-state of ours, it's becoming increasingly difficult to own a home without having to tie oneself up in a lifetime of debt. What gets lost in the translation is the film's awkward blend of comedy and drama, which forces its main characters to veer haphazardly from playing the fool to brooding about as a deeply tragic figure.
Lung (Nick Cheung) is a property agent on a deadline: his incredibly practical girlfriend requires that he double his assets and the square footage of the apartment he's offering her before she will marry him. Desperate to succeed, Lung convinces his stepdaughter Hak (Angelababy), super-rich intern Very (Oho Ou) and wealthy divorcée Charlotte (Sammi Cheng) to buy a relatively cheap penthouse with him - one which they will 'flip' for profit when the price of the flat inevitably rises in future. Lung is flummoxed, however, when new regulatory controls are imposed by the government that make it almost impossible for him to resell the property. In the meantime, the foursome wind up as the strangest - and untidiest - of bedfellows.
It's not that there isn't plenty of potential in Temporary Family. Writer-director Cheuk Wan-Chi has created characters who are, frankly, fascinating. Charlotte, in particular, hides a world of hurt beneath her cheery, Louboutin-obsessed exterior. Peeling away her layers reveals a tale of misery that could easily have been the centrepiece of its own film. But the way in which her story actually plays out feels faintly ridiculous, even in moments of high drama and tension. Her character walks a very fine line between being strong and foolish, and Cheuk isn't quite assured enough a director to find both the comedy and tragedy of Charlotte's plight.
The other characters are in the same boat. We are frequently told that Lung has a depth and spirit to him that's now been drained away by the demands of real life, but it becomes increasingly hard to care when his desperation to sell the property makes him largely oblivious to the troubles of everyone around him, especially Hak. What dramatic depth the character has is also leeched away by the string of iniquities to which he's subjected throughout the film, like dog-sitting for a capricious customer or tangling with an unidentifiable stray hair in the penthouse.
At least Cheuk's cast is worth the watch. Cheng walks away with MVP honours; she's as convincing when clowning her way through a scene as she is when heartbrokenly squeezing a cupcake to bits in her hand. Angelababy, so typecast as the feisty, pretty girl in much of her filmography to date, breaks free of that stereotype as Hak, a tantalisingly tough tomboy of a delivery girl who remains close to Lung even though there have been several boyfriends since in her mother's life. Cheung and Ou do well enough with more undercooked parts.
It's hard to tell what to think by the time the movie draws to a close. Tables have been overturned (literally), romance has been kindled, and the themes of the film seem to have been lost in the process. To be fair, Cheuk does find something incisive to say every once in a while about the ever higher costs of owning your own home. But she also seems to spend more time distracting her audience - and herself - with comic antics that don't amount to much.
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