Mou Men Tai (No Problem) (1999)
Mou Men Tai 2 (No Problem 2) created a small stir when it was released last year (2002), probably because of the appearance of Yuen Biao and Kim Won Jun, both absent from Hong Kong screens for a long time. Thanks to them, Ken Lo and Ngai Sing it contained some of the most interesting martial arts of the year - which isn't saying much, given the dire state of martial arts movies in Hong Kong these days.
The first Mou Men Tai appeared in 1999 and seems to have created absolutely no stir whatsoever - in fact even after seeing Mou Men Tai 2 I remained convinced there was no Mou Men Tai 1. Well, I was wrong... it's just that you have to pick up the expensive Japanese DVD to see it. This is a real shame, as in most respects the original film is far superior to the sequel.
Short monkey-faced Takashi Okamura has the lead role again, as Daijiro, aka "Mr. Mou Men Tai". Daijiro works in a video store and is a huge fan of Hong Kong Cinema... especially Jackie Chan. He learns the hard way that some passions are best not shared with one's girlfriend. Ling, his girlfriend, actually shares his passion though - in fact she decides she likes Jackie Chan so much she moves to Hong Kong to work for him.
Daijiro is heartbroken at her loss, so much so that he decides to go to Hong Kong to track her down and persuade her to return. When he arrives he takes a job as a stuntman and his path soon crosses that of Ling. His adventure becomes more complicated, however, when he finds an illegal immigrant from the mainland hiding under his bed, also here to look for her lost love.
MOU MEN TAI was filmed in HK, with a mostly HK cast and crew, including director Alfred Cheung. The love for HK cinema is clear, though it's mostly poked fun at, but in an affectionate way. Unlike the sequel, there aren't any real fight scenes, as the focus is much more firmly on the story and the characters. This is no bad thing, as the story and characters are worthy of a lot of attention - both are excellent.
Daijiro is a great character, as unlikely a hero as you're likely to meet. His character is amusingly flawed but ultimately likeable. His adventures in Hong Kong give him an opportunity to rise to an occasion, and he grows substantially from his experiences. Girlfriend Ling is another character with more depth and complexity than most girlfriend roles get. I don't know who the Chinese actress is that plays the illegal immigrant, but her role is relatively one dimensional in comparison. She is extremely attractive though
The story is a frank and interesting look at love, lust and the difficulties these things tend to cause when they first enter your lives. It is a love story at heart, but an unconventional one. This makes it all the more enjoyable. Whilst MMT2 was pretty much a straightforward comedy, MMT has a much stronger dramatic component, with comedy playing second fiddle. This is not to say that it isn't funny - there are many scenes that are, but the comedy never detracts from the story.
This is the main reason that MOU MEN TAI is a much stronger movie than MOU MEN TAI 2 - it has much more depth and emotion, and a story that will stick with you after the credits role. It offers plenty to think about, which the sequel doesn't really. The thing you lose in exchange is of course the action - there's a few scenes of HK action homage, but they're basically played for laughs and don't feature performers of the calibre of Kim Won Jun or Ken Lo. There are brief cameos from Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, but we don't get to see them fight. Despite his central role in the storyline, Jackie Chan never actually makes an appearance on screen. I wonder if he even knew he was in the movie )
These days, HK Cinema fans are so desparate for decent action that even a trickle like that in MOU MEN TAI 2 is enough to make waves. That is the only reason that I can think of for it getting much wider exposure than this movie. It's unfortunate that this should be the case, as MOU MEN TAI is a great little movie well worthy of your attention.