Fantastic Fest: ‘Vulgaria’ Finds Lots of Humor, a Little Heart and Cow Bliss In the Business of Filmmaking
Editor’s note: This review originally ran as part of our coverage of the 11th Annual New York Asian Film Festival, but seeing as the film is also playing Fantastic Fest, we’ve decided to bring it back.
Movie producers are a misunderstood cog in the film-making wheel, or at least that’s what To Wai-cheung (Chapman To) would like us to believe. He’s invited to talk to a group of film students who see producers purely as the money men of cinema, and he goes hoping to prove that they’re actually the hardest working people in show business. Producers are like pubes, he tells them, because their main purpose is to reduce friction between bodies.
One of the students asks if he’s ever really had to sacrifice for the sake of his art, and To relates the hilarious, sad, sexy and disgusting story behind the making of his latest film. From story conception, casting and financing to production, editing and premiere, making a movie requires smarts, luck, persistence and flexibility. Oh, and sometimes, just sometimes, it might require sex with a mule.
“Let’s enjoy mule pussy after dinner. How about that?”
To is not a successful producer by any stretch, and his love life has fared just as poorly. He’s struggling to maintain shared custody of his daughter with his lawyer ex-wife, but a lack of money for alimony and her skill with the law have him at a disadvantage. He acquires funding from a mobster named Brother Tyrannosaurus during a dinner of cow vagina and cats and sets out to produce a remake of a Shaw Brothers softcore classic. How hard could it be?
Director Pang Ho-Cheung delivered one of the best slashers in recent memory with the thriller Dream Home, but he does a complete 180 here as that film’s very graphic nature is traded in for one that (potentially) offends in its dialogue only. Pop-rock blowjobs, muff-diving, handjobs and more are discussed with frequency, but there isn’t even a hint of nudity to be found.
Thankfully there are laughs though, a lot of them, and they come most frequently from Chapman To. He’s a wonderfully expressive actor (who resembles Garry Shandling a bit when he presses his lips together) who knows how to deliver funny lines and play it straight with the best of them. Side characters earn some out loud chuckles too – the director who sets up a mahjong den with a daycare for housewives is especially priceless. International comedy, Asian in particular, often misses the mark with Western audiences who fail to understand the references and generally don’t share the same sense of humor, but even if you don’t recognize the cameos or get the industry commentary here the remaining laughs are still abundant.
Vulgaria is being marketed as a “dirty” movie, but that’s underselling the film’s real strengths. The crassness is all delivered via fast, funny and profane dialogue that more often than not plays into the story. To’s relationships with his daughter and a starlet named Popping Candy (Dada Chen) offer up some unexpected heart along the way, and Pang doesn’t miss any opportunity to call out Hong Kong’s film industry, but the main thrust here is comedy.
And it’s a thrust that’ll leave you smiling.
Hong Kong, 2012
90 minutes, in Cantonese and Profanity with English subtitles
Directed by: Pang Ho-cheung
Starring: Chapman To, Kristal Tin, Simon Lui, Ronald Cheng, Susan Shaw Yin-yin