The Shopaholics



Film review by Lee Alon

One cliché regarding the ardor of city life pertains, as everyone knows, to stress. The pressure of living in a conurbation canít be emphasized enough, especially in a town like HK where crossing the street on a busy day can be tantamount to swimming in jell-o. Such a dire predicament opens up endless opportunities for screenwriters and other cinematic cronies, to wit the constant march of situational comedies coming out of Hong Kong featuring hapless individuals crushed under the weight of metropolitan survival.

The Shopaholics is one of the latest such entries, but by no means a member of the greatest club. It suffers from an annoying nervous tick of a plot device whereby events unfold as per what the doctor ordered, and in general sustains itself just barely by falling back on surprisingly likable characters that most of us will find somehow endearing. Cecilia Cheung heads this ensemble in a role much more suited to her capabilities than being relegated to a Zhang Ziyi clone in The Promise. We must never forget the cheery youngster got her start in hit King of Comedy, and here she once more pursues a light hearted streak tinged with just the slighted pinch of tragedy.
As hideously-named Fong Fong Fong, Cecilia epitomizes demonic-compulsive shopping syndrome, a condition reportedly triggered when her unseen parents abandoned her post-birth at a luxury retail outlet somewhere between the LV and Burberry sections. Twenty some years later, Fong Fong lives to shop, residing in an apartment where nothing exists save for a bevy of designer products she never uses.
As a result of her shopaholic condition, Fong Fong can't hold a steady job and must seek professional help. The film never addresses how exactly someone drowning in credit card debt as a consequence of uncontrollable shopping may be able to afford therapy, but that's probably besides the point in a project as intellectually forgiving as this one.
Dr. Choosey Lee (Lau Ching Wan in yet another superfluous comedic turn) accepts the task, only to reveal himself as a fellow sufferer. Not shopping is his woe, but rather decidophobia: he can't make up his mind, no matter how trivial the issue. Together Lee and Fong Fong confront their personal devils, with the inevitable romantic thread popping in for a hello as the story progresses.
But the modern megalopolis demands sacrifices dearer than a mere pair of miserable denizens, so to complete the picture there's Jordan Chan (Initial D) as an eternally tormented consumer with a seriously devastating case of buyer's remorse. Irrespective of the amount, this dude will regret it, and painfully so. His own female complement is superb Ella Koon (Drink Drank Drunk) as secondary moniker-disaster Ding Dong Dong. Secondary to Cecilia and unfortunately so, for Ella, though consigned to the pretty-face role, manages to flex her thespian muscles quite nicely considering The Shopaholics's limited scope. Her problem is an acute and severe inferiority complex that has her ever-inadequate for whatever situation she finds herself in. Of course, the lass also likes to shop.
Well, shopping has always been a peculiar aspect of the Fragrant Harbor, and as most will attest, a practical pastime in a place dependent upon rampant commercial activity. Within this framework, The Shopaholics may be taken for social commentary, but as the latter often ends up looking in HK movies, here too it's hard making out the trees for all the receipts, or spotting the moral content amid thinly-disguised promos for in-vogue mall APM.
Sadly, the film includes one of the most irritating sequences seen lately on the big screen where characters rush fruitlessly under the guidance of uber-psychologist Dr. Phoenix Luk (singer Paula Tsui), acting as a type of mentor for the quartet of unhappy souls. Meant to convey build up towards catharsis, the fifteen-minute strong bit grates worse than brick cheese while one sits there wondering why they should care as protagonists go through ridiculous slapstick routines ten times too many. But not all is lost, as The Shopaholics does present four characters with real problems and authentic-sounding difficulties many a member of its target audience will readily relate to. In that, if in nothing else, it does win a modest victory.
Given better story development and less of an "homage" to traditional Cantonese comedy (it does happen to be a contemporary tale, mind you) The Shopaholics might have been actually enjoyable, but lest we irritate our luckily dormant regretful anxiety complex.

Rating: 5/10

Directed by Wai Ka Fai
Starring Cecilia Cheung, Ella Koon, Lau Ching Wan, Jordan Chan, Paula Tsui
2006, Cantonese/English, 90 minutes

Contact Lee Alon here


Other "View from the Brooklyn Bridge" Film Raters:

Brian: 6.0
Steve: 6.2
YTSL: 5.0
Michael: 6.0
Elif: 5.0
Sarah: 5.0