Besides the EU spin off 'Turning Point', the recently revived Shaw Brothers and TVB production shingle have specialised in slapstick comedies centred around real-life circumstances facing the average Hong Kong citizen. Thematically therefore, their latest film 'The Fortune Buddies' bears many similarities to their Chinese New Year offerings '72 Tenants of Prosperity' and 'I Love Hong Kong'- in fact, director Chung Shu Kai is behind all three films, and this bears the trademark madcap humour of his earlier two.
But repetition isn't necessarily a bad thing in itself, especially if it is as laugh-out-loud hilarious as 'The Fortune Buddies'. Indeed, the film, named after its trio of male stars who have shot in fame of late as the 'Fuk Luk Sau' or 'Fortune Buddies' in English, is great jaunty fun and boasts an irrepressible verve that will keep you entertained from start to finish- even though the script by Chung and Wong Yeung-Tat does wear thin especially towards the finish.
Much of the film's jolly energy comes from the charismatic 'Fuk Luk Sau' trio of Wong Cho-Lam, Louis Yuen and Johnson Lee. Their collaboration originated from a variety show with the grand dame Liza Wang called 'Liza and the Three Gods', but their popularity has since skyrocketed thanks to their cross-dressing showmanship. Anyhow, this movie marks the first time that they are teaming up outside of variety shows and concerts, and it is ample proof that the trio have plenty of talent outside of singing, dancing and cross-dressing.
In the film, Wong, Louis and Johnson are three bosom out-of-work buddies Lam Luk, Fook Cheung and Jit Sau who unite to help Lam raise $500,000 in order that he be able to marry his long-time girlfriend (Fiona Sit)- a condition set by his practical soon-to-be father-in-law (Eric Tsang). A string of odd jobs and amusing gags ensue as they ham it up as property agents, security guards, drivers and part-time actors- in particular, the latter which sees them as 'extras' in the filming of a Michael Tse (aka 'Laughing Gor') drama and bungling their roles on the set is simply uproarious.
Of course, true to their origin, the 'Fuk Luk Sau' trio also take to the busy Mongkok streets to put up a cross-dressing performance in plain sight- and we admit that this being the first time we have seen them in drag, the results are pretty entertaining. Eventually, they stumble upon accidental fame as amateur wrestlers entertaining the crowds along Sai Yeung Choi Street- though a run-in with a renowned wrestler from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) turns their phony wrestling performances deadly serious.
But before we get there, Chung mines the trio's perfect comedic timing for some downright hilarious slapstick gags which left us in stitches. In fact, the 'Fuk Luk Sau' reminds us of another popular trio in the 1970s and 1980s that also made its fortune in side-splitting farces playing ordinary Hong Kong folk. If you haven't already guessed it, we're referring to the Hui brothers- and it is truly to Wong, Louis and Johnson's credit that their team effort is as good as the classic bunch of Michael, Sam and Ricky Hui.
Unfortunately, their charisma isn't quite enough to distract from the patchiness of the storytelling, which is particularly apparent towards the last third of the film when their characters are pitted in a wrestling challenge against the WWE wrestling team. There are clear allusions here to the award-winning 'Gallants', but Chung decides to exploit the finale as an East-versus-West contest not unlike the 'Ip Man' movies. It is strangely anachronistic to say the least, and this clumsiness on the way to the obligatory happily-ever-after ending is made only clearer because of the film's melodramatic tendencies.
Nonetheless you're still likely to leave with a big smile on your face- thanks to the amusing turns by the 'Fuk Kuk Sau' trio, as well as a bevy of TVB stars who lend their star power in cameos that poke fun at some memorable performance in their respective filmographies. Some comic references specific to the Hong Kong people will likely be lost on a foreign audience, but the good-intentioned message of perseverance and hope amidst the tough economic and employment climate still rings out loud and clear.
So too the amusing physical and verbal gags, performed with zany comic energy from the 'Fuk Luk Sau' trio to great slapstick effect. Sure, 'The Fortune Buddies' is just as uneven as '72 Tenants' and 'I Love Hong Kong', but it also has bits that rival the humour in those two films, hearkening back to the Hui classics like 'Games Gamblers Play' (鬼馬雙星), 'The Last Message' (天才與白痴) and 'The Contract' (賣身契). Bottom line, this is great fun and great entertainment that will tickle your funny bone silly.