Shopaholics, The
Hong Kong 2006
Directed by Wai Ka Fai.


Wai Ka Fai's latest Lunar New Year comedy is neither very funny, nor very good. Yet, several layers below the suffocating artiface of the production, some basic truths struggle for air. There is a story to tell here, about our modern condition and the illnesses it engenders, the isolation it creates, and the comic moments we all live through. But Wai Ka Fai is content to skate along the surface, moving his characters about like chess pieces instead of living characters, and when he tires even of that, requiring one of the characters in the movie to move the others about like chess pieces. THE SHOPAHOLICS reminds us of everything that is bad about Lunar New Year comedies, and makes us forget all that was good.

The last time we saw Lau Ching-Wan and Cecilia Cheung together in a movie, it was for 2003's LOST IN TIME (Derek Yee, HK). What a difference a few years make. LOST IN TIME is one of the few great movies to come from the Special Administrative Region in the past five years, while THE SHOPAHOLICS gets dropped into the disposal bin along with so much of the other rubbish. What happened?

Cecilia Cheung is Fong Fong Fong, a "shopaholic" who was abandoned as a child in a department store. Now she has a problem and is up to her eyeballs in debt and can't even keep a job. It was perhaps supposed to be comic when she takes a group of grade school students to the mall, and instead of looking after them, runs about shopping while they run wild in the mall. While this sequence is not endearing, it does at least reveal that she has a serious problem.

She goes to Choosie (Lau Ching-Wan), a psychiatrist, who also has a psychological problem: decide-a-phobia. He can't make a decision when confronted with more than one option.

At first it seems a bit silly that the psychiatrist should have a mental problem, too, but as the story unfolds it comes to pass that everyone has a psychological disorder of one kind or another. There's Richie (Jordon Chan), a wealthy businessman who cannot tolerate it when people try to compete with him, and Ding Dong Ding (Ella Koon), who must have a bargain no matter what. Oh, and she also tries to kill herself if she is rejected. Their parents and relatives, those we meet, are no better. There are shopaholics a plenty, billionaire tightwads, narcoleptics, and the gambling addicted Law Kar-Ying, who continues to get lots of comedy mileage out of his regular outbursts of English language curses.

We're all messed up -- all of us. And each broadly painted over exaggerated character behaved just a little bit like people we know. Or at least I know. Maybe I'm hanging out with a crazy bunch, but I doubt it. Who hasn't splashed out cash in buying something to finish a collection that you don't need, just to feel better. Who hasn't agreed to stay with someone you really like, but don't really love, because of your concern that they will be hurt? Who hasn't wanted to curse up a goddamn shit storm? Come on, people, you know who you are.

But then about halfway into the film the main character's various illnesses make them all agree to marry each other, but they are unable to decide who will marry whom. They call in the big guns, psychologist (and shopaholic) Paula Tsui, who makes them go through lots of silly back and forth antics in a supposedly Jungian move to make them uncover who they really love. And at the point, THE SHOPAHOLICS stops being about much of anything at all, but running this way and that. A slapped on "magical realism" ending allows two of the characters to reunite for the final happy ending, but by that point, the movie has completely squandered all of its potential. Worst of all, it isn't even very funny. (After all, if there's one thing that can paper over a shallow film, it's comedy).

What happened to Lau Ching-Wan and Cecilia Cheung between LOST IN TIME and THE SHOPAHOLICS? In Cecilia Cheung's case, absolutely nothing. She is still extremely talented, and gets more out of her character than the rest of the leads combined. Lau Ching-Wan, however, delivers another forgettable performance without fire or heart. Where did he go? I miss the guy. Even after watching him star in movies like this, I miss the guy.

Rating: Not Recommended (Not Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on April 20, 2006.


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