Friday, May 23, 2014

It's Now or Never

Director" Chan Kwok Hei
Starring: Sharla Cheung Man,  Alfred Cheung, Cynthia Khan, Ng Man Tat

It's Now or Never is one of the hidden gems of Hong Kong cinema. Many outside it's country of origin have not heard of this wonderful oddity. I got my first and only exposure to this title via the fun genre book, "Sex and Zen and a Bullet in the Head". Penned in 1997 by Stefan Hammond and Mike Wilkins, it largely covered ground that most hard core buffs were already familiar with (if even just recently so in some cases). This movie however, was an exception and after finally viewing it, it's easy to understand why this bit of craziness was so championed by the authors.

The film opens with a bang, Over the driving beat of The Surfaris' Wipeout, we are introduced to a gang of early 1960s-style Teddy Girls led by Rose (Cheung Man) and her little sis, Tracy (Rain Lau). Always looking for trouble (of course), this lot frequently finds it. In this instance, they start a major brawl at a dance over boyfriend thievery.Hauled off to jail, they are quickly bailed out by Rose's father, Wong Tat (Ng Man Tat) who puts on a sob story for the ages that reduces many of the cops to tears. As we soon learn however, Wong is no martyr. On the contrary, he is quite the gigolo who often entertains his clients in his own bedroom... with his daughters in the next room no less. The girl gang draws the ire of a tough, vindictive policewoman (Chan Hui Ying) who has made it her business to shadow their every move. Rose in the meantime, has caught the eye of nerdy, lovesick cop, Shing (Alfred Cheung). The real trouble however comes in the form of Loan Shark Wong (Wong Chi Keung)  who on the behest of a jilted client, means to shake down gigalo papa Wong over mucho unpaid bills. In a bid to help Daddy Dearest, Rose enlists the smitten Shing while offering herself to the shy mama's boy as gratitiude.

It's Now or Never is that rarest of animals; a perfectly realized black comedy from Hong Kong. Director Chan Kwak Hei takes what would otherwise be thoroughly repellant material and manages to brilliantly weave a lightning fast satire that's as subtly hilarious as it is fun and exciting to watch.There is nary a false note to be found anywhere. Chan's nutty masterpiece has been compared to the works of John Waters (which appears to be the main influence here), but it manages to connect it's dark humor with it's strong entertainment value more effectively (and yes, subtly) than Waters has ever manged.

The cast as well, are all note-perfect. The gorgeous Cheung Man (Sharla Cheung) is an actress I'm familiar with, but have not been overly exposed to. This was due to her appearances in films that I wasn't too terribly interested in (early Stephen Chow comedies, various gangster melodramas). Seeing her in this movie is something of a revelation. Filmed in loving closeup, Cheung's Rose is one of the great ice queens; heartless and conniving, the character is ultimately softened (somewhat) by the selflessness of her would-be suitor. Ng Man Tat has appeared in so many comedies during this period (he was a regular sidekick in the aforementioned Stephen Chow pics), that he must have been one of the most in demand character actors in the industry. He is at his loathsome, scene stealing best here and it's to his credit and the film's that you feel some measure of sympathy toward this morally bankrupt character. Playing Little Bun, Rose's closest ally, Cynthia Khan gets to take a break from her action diva status and nearly steals the film. Playing against type as a wimpy, man hungry gang member, Khan is a riot as she attempts to get out of various fights by threatening to use her deadly Eagle Claw Kung Fu and getting her lovely rear end handed to her in each instance. It is no coincindence that she finally reveals her inner courage against a man as she applies her Eagle Claw to the groin (all that's missing is a shot of two eggs cracking as in the classic Fu feature, Invincible Armor).

It's a crime that a film as striking and original as It's Now or Never has yet to receive a dvd release (laserdisc and vcd only). It truly is a lost gem of a film that deserves rediscovering.

Rating: 8/10

and the trailer is pretty amazing, too...