Despite its possibly shaky premise, Men Suddenly in Black features a likeable leading cast, surprising depth and a lot of laughs
“The wives are coming! Let’s go!”
Men Suddenly in Black doesn’t have the most promising of premises: four men, who learn their wives are out of town, decide to spend a day doing nothing but cheat on them. It doesn’t scream instant classic, and probably conjures up images of awful misogynist lessons and terrible laddish jokes. This film certainly has some of these, but the end result is oddly much, much better than the sum of its parts. Let’s start from the beginning.
Kwok Tin-Yau (Eric Tsang) is the leader of a group of friends – Chao (Chapman To), Cheung (Jordan Chan), and newbie Paul (Spirit Blue), whose seemingly greatest goal is to get laid as often as possible, and without their wives noticing. All four wives are going to Taiwan for the next 14 hours, for whatever reason, and the gang reunite to get with as many women as possible in that time. They’ve been getting ready for this for 5 years, when a big party was broken up by the wives and the old leader of the gang, Ninth Uncle (Tony Leung Ka-Fai), was caught. To honour his memory – he’s been under house arrest by his wife and isn’t allowed to so much as look at porn – the four friends have been putting aside cash monthly and have planned the whole day out, while trying to avoid their wives, which they begin to suspect aren’t in Taiwan after all.
The first thing that stands out about this film is how it doesn’t try to be too serious. Their planning of the day – starting with their inventory (“Blue pills for power, white to last a long time, condoms [9 each, as ‘this is the limit for one man’], liquid cash and a disposable SIM card) is played for laughs, making everything seem much more high-stakes than it is. The day is broken down into missions, and even the opening credits are made to look like a cat-and-mouse thriller. Everything is executed with comedy in mind, and it works. This films is incredibly funny, both when it’s emulating heist films (the funniest scene is when the gang are escaping a brothel and try to hide from tabloid photographers, resulting in a literal camera shoot-out ) and when it’s just doing things for the sake of being funny.
A lot of this is down to the main cast, who manage to avoid looking like terrible creeps, which is no small feat. Eric Tsang and Chapman To are very reliable sources of comedy and do a lot to bring us into their weird world. “Big” Tony Leung isn’t in the film much, but he’s also pretty fantastic. The wives, played by (I think, IMDb is being very vague with names), Teresa Mo, Candy Lo, Marsha Yuen and Tiffany Lee are also definitely worth a mention: they excel beyond being just typical shrill housewives and offer a lot of personality.
Director Pang Ho-Cheung never really takes sides; it’s not that kind of movie, but shows events from both points of view. It strikes a balance between the men and women, and manages to squeeze sympathy into certain scenes. The men aren’t just terrible men, and the women aren’t just victims. There’s a very real scene a bit past the halfway mark when the men ask themselves why they’ve been doing this, and it results in more poignancy than you might except from this type of film. I don’t know a lot about marriage laws in Hong Kong at the turn of the century, but you get a sense that a lot of these men feel trapped with no way out – same with their wives – and this is the only thing they can do to escape. Eric Tsang’s character might be sex-obsessed (there’s even a scene where Cheung calls him out on it: “Why do we never hang out just to get coffee?” he asks, during another wacky escape), but he’s also trapped in a marriage that’s clearly falling apart.
Scenes like that help to emphasise the comedy, and like I mentioned before, despite its few misogynist pieces of humour (there’s a scene where Eric Tsang – no Adonis himself – is waiting for an old fling to meet him and oh dear she’s now fat! Rimshot!), the movie finds humour both in the ever-failing plans, but in the friendship these men have, and their great chemistry, making Men Suddenly in Black a surprisingly refreshing and often hilarious film.
Verdict: Highly enjoyable and full of laughs, Men Suddenly in Black combines eight great performances into one solid comedy caper
Men Suddenly in Black (2003)
Also known as: 大丈夫
Director: Pang Ho-Cheung
Writers: Patrick Kong, Erica Lee Pang, Ho-Cheung
Eric Tsang – Kwok Tin-yau
Chapman To – Chao
Jordan Chan – Cheung
Spirit Blue – Paul
Teresa Mo – Tin’s Wife
Candy Lo – Anna
Marsha Yuen – Ching
Tony Leung Ka-Fai – Ninth Uncle
Sandra Ng – Ninth Uncle’s wife