1:99
Hong Kong 2003
Directed by Johnnie To, Stephen Chow, Andrew Lau, Alan Mak, Tsui Hark.


An anthology of eleven short films designed to give Hong Kong people hope during the SARS crisis. But the best all the talent in Hong Kong can produce ends up being about as uplifting as a Claritin commercial, with each short vying to be more cliche than the last.

The INFERNAL AFFAIRS crew donated an artistic short featuring Tony Leung wandering through a bleak and grey Hong Kong cityscape, alone, until Hong Kong people regain their nerve and start marching in the streets. The short is, unfortunately, lavishly overproduced and sort of looks like it should have been made into a car commercial.

A short by Johnnie To features Andy Lau, Lau Ching-Wan, and a host of other To regulars at a restaurant, when Andy whips out a guitar and they all start swaying back and forth and singing with a sort of "We are the World" vibe.

One would hope for something wonderful from Tsui Hark, but instead we get an animated short featuring the antics of Master Q, trapped on an island surrounded by sharks. The theme was chosen, as the animators make clear, because sharks is an anagram of HK SARS. Clever, but unrewarding.

There is a bright side, though. One of the shorts is unintentionally hilarious because over scenes of a happy daddy and son and a bright future for Hong Kong, they play without even a hint of irony the Eric Idle "Bright Side of Life" song, which was originally sung by two crucified thieves to Jesus, at the end of LIFE OF BRIAN, right before they all die, horribly.

The DVD contains some "directors cut" versions of some of the shorts, which are imperceptibly longer and do nothing to improve them.

The DVD also contains some special features. One is a speech given by Eric Tsang, which goes on at length, and is difficult to stay awake through. Another, more interesting, is a sort of "making of" short, which gives some sense of how Hong Kong actors were coping with SARS during the crisis. The answer: not too well. A scene with Sandra Ng shows how fanatically she cleaned every surface she may have come in touch with in a paranoid frenzy. While watching these scenes, I was reminded of how AIDS is still poorly understood and depicted only in the most derogatory terms in Hong Kong cinema, and that has been around for a long time. Of course, SARS would be given similar treatment, at least at first.

Far from giving me hope, the shorts filled me with dread. Surely only the truly desperate and fearful would produce such tissue thin feel-good propaganda. If they really wanted to show the spirit of HK is alive and well, and standing brave in the face of adversity, they would have done better to round up Herman Yau and co. and whip off EBOLA SYNDROME II. Why fear when you can exploit? Designer face masks -- now that's a symbol of the strength of Hong Kong. 1:99 doesn't even come close.

Rating: Not Recommended (Not Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on July 02, 2004.


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