The Romancing Star

Back in the 1980’s Wong Jing knocked out movies at the rate that most of us change our socks. Ones such as this effort sort of get lost in his mass of work – it is neither trashy enough nor risqué enough to have gained any particular reputation – and is as close to a family comedy as Wong got in those days. It has also been a difficult film to find with subtitles, but has finally been released on DVD. It does have two major things going for it though – and the reason I have wanted to see it for years – that come in the names of Chow Yun Fat and Maggie Cheung. Considering that these actors were two of the biggest stars of the 1980’s, it is surprising at how few times they worked together – The Seventh Curse, Rose and this film – all made around the same period of time from 1986-1987. This is a cute vehicle for these two shiny and charismatic actors – a goofy romantic comedy that veers frantically between total idiocy and complete silliness.
This was made in 1987 – one year after Chow Yun Fat became a huge action star with A Better Tomorrow – but even after this success Chow never turned his back on drama and comedy and continued making films in both those genres. His Western action fans are often surprised at just how idiotic Chow could be in his comedies – these are far from sophisticated drawing room comedies as they rely on broad comedic reactions, pratfalls, physical knocking about and anything else that might generate a cheap laugh. Chow’s characters are typically not very bright and often working class stiffs - or even refugees from the Mainland (often the target of jokes during this pre-Handover period). Yet he attacks his roles with such gusto, a sly grin and so much silly charm that he makes you laugh in spite of yourself. Films such as The Eighth Happiness (1988), Fractured Follies (1988), The Greatest Lover (1988), Diary of a Big Man (1988) and The Fun, the Luck and the Tycoon (1990) are all stupid fun that I enjoyed quite a bit. The other thing to note is just how popular Chow was as a comic actor in Hong Kong – these movies did quite well at the box office – The Romancing Star (9th), Eighth Happiness (1st), The Greatest Lover (9th), Fractured Follies (32nd), Diary of a Big Man (12th) and The Fun, the Luck and the Tycoon (10th). Hong Kong film fans never saw Chow as strictly an action star.
This one and the two Romancing films that followed are clearly influenced by the ensemble comedies of the Lucky Star series – but without any real action (even with Phillip Ko and Lau Kar Wing being credited as action choreographers). In this one Stanley Fung owns a car repair shop and employs the Three Stooges like trio of Chow Yun Fat, Eric Tsang and Natalis Chan (he turns down Brother Ho who is applying for a job after getting out of prison!). All three of them are just on this side of being morons as they constantly play jokes on each other or break into song. Chow loses his long time girlfriend (Cheung Man) after he hits her mother in the face with a cake for denigrating his job and so Stanley takes them on a low low budget holiday to a resort in Malaysia (the tour guide is Wong Jing) for them to have a little fun and for Chow to recover from his heartbreak. The heartbreak recedes like an ebb tide when he and the crew spot Maggie and her friend (Cheung Lai Ping) walking on the beach. Like many a traditional screwball comedy, both parties pretend to be wealthy (Chow is hypnotized into thinking he is a proper “gentleman”) and a small romance blooms between Maggie and Chow, while the other three men pursue the girlfriend.
Back in Hong Kong the romance and deception continue until the sleazy Stuart Ong decides that he wants to bed Maggie and reveals Chow’s true economic status. The plot though is almost beside the point – the film really consists of a number of skit like scenes strung together and called a plot. Some of them are quite amusing – often just seeing Chow in full throttle foolishness is enough to crack me up – and some of them leave you wondering what you missed. There are also numerous parodies of A Better Tomorrow and a few other films. The ending hits some excellent comedic moments as Ong has drugged the two girls with something that makes you faint on the seventh step and at one point both Ong and Chow have ingested some as well and have taken six steps and can’t take another - and they have a dog humping their legs – it’s that kind of humor and it often works.
Maggie goes through the film in her typical early actress mode – eyes glowing like streetlights, her crooked tooth grin always at the ready and just a general adorability that is difficult to resist. Showing up in cameos are Dodo Cheng, Philip Chan (disco owner), Maria Cordero (passing the orange), Anthony Chan and Charlie Cho (as employees of Ong) and Wong San as Cheung Man’s father.

My rating for this film: 6.5