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Hollywood Hong Kong

Director: Fruit Chan (2001)

Overwhelmed by the city's almost exclusively commercial orientation, Hong Kong alternative cinema has nonetheless survived, propagated most vocally by people such as writer/director Fruit Chan (Little Cheung, Finale in Blood), whom has been dubbed by those who know "the headmaster of Chinese underground cinema".

Dishearteningly enough, this particular Chan film leaves pupils wanting, it's most obvious pro being smart-Alec semantic wordplay using Tinseltown's gilded reputation. In its closest shot at sophistication, Hollywood Hong Kong has hardly anything to do with California's celluloid goldmine, instead taking its moniker from a glorified housing complex of the same name lying adjacent to real-life Tai Hom Village.

Among the rundown rubble live several alarmingly maligned characters. For starters, there is the Chu family of obese roast pork mongers, whose gruesome profession is revealed to us via a gross Fight Club-esque opening sequence. Then there's Tiger Wong, small time pimp, Internet porn addict, and generally noxious individual. 

All must face retribution for their anti-social habits when Shanghai import and call girl extraordinaire Tong Tong (Zhou Xun) enters the scene.

Through seduction and feigned innocence, she entraps charmed adorers; unsurprisingly, her lovers all later receive notices claiming she's sixteen and demanding money on threat of legal action.

Other subplots mainly center on the usual art circuit spiel - life's dark, bestial underbelly and ever present contrasts between rich and poor, new and old.

While certainly possessing its own textural ambience, Hollywood contains about as much charm as a camcorder pirate at a blockbuster premier. The dirty looks are too cool, and dialogue and deviant characters too hip to be truly intriguing. It indeed skirts ingenuity, never attaining it. 

Faint-hearted viewers should also remember there's quite a lot of mildly disgusting bits involving minced meat, disturbingly not only pig-sourced. 

Granted, Zhou Xun does us proud with her most enticing appearance to date. Just make sure you avoid meaty dishes while you watch. 

(cityweekend.com.cn January 19, 2004)

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