Fantastic Fest Review: Uncover A Rousing Hong Kong Cinema Satire in VULGARIA

April reviews the Hong Kong comedy about the adult film industry.

Eclectic in every sense of the word, Chinese director Pang Ho-Cheung (Love in a Puff, Dream Home) is known for pushing the envelope - despite what the film’s title might suggest, this is actually a visually tame offering that cleverly conceals its downright filthy content. The dialogue, however is let’s just say... unfit for those offended by the prospect of a human making love to the four-legged product of female horse and male donkey copulation. I could explain, but I won’t.
 
Champan To portrays To Wai Cheung, a bottom-feeding/leech-like producer of Cat III (X-rated) films who’s been invited to speak at a university before a class of industry hopefuls. “A good producer is like a great thick bush of pubic hair,” he says to open the floor and describe their imperative role as liaison between directors and financiers. And as initially ludicrous as that sounds, it becomes wholly apt near the end of his explanation.
 
Charged with the accusation that a "a producer doesn't do anything" Cheung defends his penchant for surrender by detailing his latest obstacle-filled quest to remake the 1976 Shaw Brothers scorcher Confessions of a Concubine due to the whims of Guangxi gangster/fat cat who is not so affectionately known as "Brother Tyrannosaurus." They’ll call it Confessions of Two Concubines starring the film’s original star Siu Yam-yam, who’s now pushing sixty and requires a body double, the ominously named Popping Candy (Dada Chen).

Part of this financing deal with Brother Tyrannosaurus includes some traditional Guangxi hospitality, like the sharing of such culinary delicacies as field mice and "cow bliss” and also insisting he sleep with "his best girl," who might be his best girl but she is also a mule (that reel is conveniently missing). But in the best of first act traditions, this stuff only scratches the surface of the hilarious sacrifices he will make.

At the heart of these struggles is Cheung's touching relationship with his young daughter, one that writhes in jeopardy as his stiff, successful lawyer wife is constantly trying to lessen his time and influence. The tussle culminates in an offer that puts our protagonist at the center of this internal conflict: daughter or immediate career (the problem is of course the ongoing catch 22 that he needs a career to keep supporting his offspring).

Another element that keeps Vulgaria afloat is that it manages to slide some reasonably slick satire into the insane proceedings. The state of the film industry is constantly attacked whether it be pro-terrorist product placement, actors ogling for positive tabloid exposure  or even Cheung's last saving throw, a bit of cynical brilliance that somehow manages to tie the whole story together with surprising beauty.

Well, beauty being relative. It's just that for a film mostly about offensive and batty things, it utterly manages to summon warmth to the surface with nods toward the importance of family and fatherhood. And it certainly offers up a good deal of laugh out loud moments despite a series of in-jokes lost in the Cantonese > English translation or our lack of familiarity with inter-Hong-Kong relations. Some may find it too esoteric or exclusive, but I found it sat right in that wheelhouse of smart, entendre-filled audacity and maybe you will too. And If so:

It's on like donkey dong.

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