February 11, 2023
Bayview (China Lion);
Stars Sylvia Chang, Chow Yun-Fat, Eason Chan, Tang Wei, Ziyi Wang, Yueting Lang.
Quick! Name a film best remembered for its striking use of a single set. (Without Googling, Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Jerry Lewis’ The Ladies’ Man, and Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel were the first to come to mind.) Depending on your approach, Johnnie To’s Office is either a brilliant failed experiment, or a glacial set in search of a musical hook. There are no walls to speak of, just a wire framework of steel rods as far as the eye can see. The metallic structure proves no match for To’s janky narrative structure. It’s a giant Lite-Brite box of a set that, depending on the view, resembles everything from a Vegas casino to the mesh basket in a Williams Sonoma Stainless-Steel Salad Spinner®.
Released in 1932, most of the action contained within Alfred E. Green’s pre-code delight, Union Depot, plays out in a train station so spacious, it even comes with its own fur salon. The reason for including it in this discussion is not since Union Depot has a set come equipped with so many amenities to choose from. In addition to housing a high rise office complex, the set, designed by William Chang and Alfred Yau, comes complete with a hospital, restaurant, subway system, apartments, a boxing gym, a 24-hour convenience store, and the giant clock in the sky watching over all. In short, everything but a fur salon. On the downside, the shiny surroundings bring a touch of sterility to the proceedings texture. Add to that wafer thin characters who can’t carry a tune and a score makes Andrew Lloyd Weber’s manner of talk-singing look like Cole Porter and you’ll be thankful for the set to carry you through it.
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The director is best known for his hard-edged crime dramas. Drug Wars is a minor-miracle: a cop picture that manages to sidestep every cliche and add a fresh wrinkle to an over-starched genre. As rewarding as it is to see two adults (Chow Yun Fat and screenwriter Sylvia Chang) shouldering the weight of the romance, the ballast needed by their young assistants (Ziyi Wang and Yueting Lang) to balance the load is, to say the least, disproportionate.