Hong Kong has reached a point where even making a Chinese New Year comedy can be a social statement. Director Pang Ho-cheung said that he wanted to make a comedy for Hong Kong in response to the negativity that has overtaken the city. The result is Missbehavior
, a rambunctious Chinese New Year comedy that can only come from the mind of contemporary Hong Kong cinema’s enfant terrible
harkens back to Pang’s old free-wheeling ways of filmmaking – it was conceived in October 2018, self-financed by Pang’s company (he even used a DSLR camera to keep costs down) and filmed on a 14-day shooting schedule that began in November 2018 without a completed script. The finished product is as scattershot as one might expect from such a production, but it’s also very funny and even surprisingly thoughtful.
Missbehavior is a film squarely aimed at Pang’s home audience, but even foreign audiences can appreciate the sheer weirdness of the concept: A group of friends, connected by their WhatsApp chat group, have drifted apart due to personal grudges between certain members. But when June (June Lam) accidentally misplaces her demanding boss’s bottle of breast milk, the group puts bad blood aside to help their old friend find a bottle of replacement breast milk by any means necessary.
The group consists of what can be called the “Pang Ho-cheung ensemble”. In addition to June Lam, Isabel Chan, Miriam Yeung and Chui Tien-you from Love in a Puff
, the cast also includes Gigi Leung (Aberdeen
), Dada Chan (Vulgaria
) and Isabella Leong (Isabella
), as well as cameos by other past players Matt Chow, Susan Shaw, Roy Szeto and Jo Koo. Pang is clearly having fun being surrounded by friends, especially those who are game for what their director has in store for them.
The misadventures of the group are filled with references to jokes from social media and other viral sensations. The gag involving Lam Suet as a loudmouthed waiter, for example, originated from Facebook. The Blue Man Group-lookalikes in one sequence is a direct reference to the Hong Kong fire department’s flamboyant new mascot Anyone, who was first mocked then finally embraced by the internet community. Even the film’s publicity tagline is directly taken from a notorious profanity-filled phone conversation that was leaked to the tabloid press in 2007.
Still, there is still plenty to tickle a foreign audience, especially those who enjoy American gross-out comedies. There are jokes involving bodily fluids and a scene of literal toilet humor that are more gross than anything Pang has ever done before. The “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach in the script by Pang and photographer-turned-TV personality Sunny Lau can be hit-and-miss. But as with most Chinese New Year comedies, a little bit of goodwill can go a long way.
Despite the crude nature of the humor, Missbehavior
also sees the kinder, gentler Pang Ho-cheung that’s taken over since the beginning of the Love trilogy. The film ends with a poignant message about the importance of understanding and communication between friends. It even has one of the most sensitive handlings of an LGBT relationship in mainstream Hong Kong cinema. Missbehavior
may not be a traditional Chinese New Year comedy, but it touts very similar values – harmony, happiness and unity. Even if it doesn’t have the traditional “Gung Hei Fat Choy
” onscreen greeting to wish viewers joy and prosperity at the end, this is a shining example of a solid Chinese New Year comedy.