There aren't many directors in HK these days whose new releases warrant a blind purchase - even Tsui Hark and Johnnie To release as much mud as gold. With only 4 films to his name though, Edmond Pang Ho-Cheung definitely deserves an unconditional purchase.
AV, his fourth film, synthesises elements of his previous 3 works - the DIY film-making from You Shoot, I Shoot, the guys on a mission for sex from Men Suddenly in Black and... err, naked girls from BEYOND OUR KEN :boing: It's a delicious high-concept black comedy that satirises modern-day Hong Kong and the somewhat global experience of being a young male in servitude of his libido.
Four friends learn that one of their buddies has been kicked off his film-making course for using his student film as a tool for picking up girls, which they find hilarious... not least because when it came down to the crunch he was too scared to go through with it. After some thought on the matter, and on their own lack of sexual experience, they conclude that their friend's real failing was actually a lack of ambition. Thus, they hatch their own grand plan - to produce their own porn film, with themselves as stars, to get a real porn star into bed!
The problems with their plan are numerous - they have no money, no equipment, no idea how to use the equipment if they did have it... and no porn star. But, it sometimes takes a big challenge to make a person rise to the occasion (as it were), and AV chronicles the boys' attempt to achieve their dreams.
The cast of AV are mostly HK teens who've been in a few films but certainly can't be considered stars, except possibly Wong You Nam, who is probably the only male contemporary of TWINS to have given a performance that might lodge in anyone's memory before this film. A few HK veterans turn up in small roles, including Eric Kot and Cheung Tat-Ming (stars of Pang's debut YS,IS). They're joined by a seasoned Japanese actor whose name I can't recall, and by real-life Japanese AV Girl Amamiya Manami, playing herself. One fact that the viewer can't help notice is that the boy's plan to hire a real life Japanese AV girl to appear in their film is mirrored by the actual film AV, and one wonders exactly where fiction ends and fact begins :P
Despite the low-brow high-concept, AV is a film of substantial depth. The characters are well defined, and the young cast will certainly be remembered for these roles. The situation is played both for comedic effect and pathos, with a genuine life-affirming message that feels like it is addressing the Hong Kong audience directly in a way that not too many local films do these days. The film is unmistakably Hong Kong, and it's clear that Pang Ho Cheung has a deep affection for his home territory - he's definitely not a director looking for success at Cannes or in Hollywood, just to make films for himself, his friends and the people of Hong Kong to enjoy. The love of HK is tempered with a certain sadness that the territory has fallen on hard times in recent years, but the message is clearly one of support and hope. If these 4 lousy guys can achieve something special in life, then nobody can say that hope is lost!
The film's message and morals aren't forced upon the viewer, and the focus on the film is primarily the comedy. Smart and saucy, AV is surely one of the funniest films Hong Kong has ever produced! The cast don't have the comedic charisma of Stephen Chiau, but the situations and dialogues are very funny, and Pang uses little insertions and cut-aways to often hilarious effect. I don't often find myself laughing out loud when I watch a film alone, but there were plenty of occasions in AV where I did just that. Pang's direction is very nicely nuanced and clever, and this more than makes up for any lack of experience or ability in the cast.
There is one exception to this, unfortunately - an actor whose utter lack of personality even Pang's camera can't hide. I'm not sure what his name is, but he plays the director who is kicked off his course and sets the film's events in motion. Thankfully he isn't part of the core cast who spend the most time on screen, but when he is on camera he's like a brick wall to the film's momentum. It's a shame somebody with a little bit more life to him couldn't have been found for the role.
Also there's one actor in a bit-part who nearly destroys the film - his name is Tim Youngs or something, and his inability to give life to the role of "porn customer" is a black mark on the acting profession's history. (Just kidding! Tim is a very charming porn customer, and was also the only member of the cast I had dinner with on the day I watched the film :P).
There's only one other criticism I can level at AV, which is that it perhaps drags a bit too long towards the end, losing some energy and vitality. As an Asian film fan it's always hard recommending that a film be cut a little, since we're so often subjected to cuts that *shouldn't* have been made, but in this case I think that some of Amamiya Manami's story should have been left on the editing floor. This would have left the film open to criticism for treating the young actress as a sex-object, and I am glad that her character was given room to speak, but perhaps her side of the story would have been better left to a different film (maybe a short for the dvd), since it breaks the focus on the core concept.
Aside from the minor blemishes of one dodgy cast member and the possible need for more aggressive editing at the end, I can't find any other fault with AV. It's a great concept, carried through with style and panache by a very talented director. Unless there are some great surprises in store, I expect to be nominating it for best HK Film of 2005 at the end of the year!