Purely silly from start to finish, Vulgaria lives up to its title
“Your attention, please. This film has been classified as vulgar comedy. It contains high amounts of coarse language, adult themes, political incorrectness, discrimination and sexual situations. As such, this film has been rated one level higher than Parental Guidance: Parental Censure. Any persons who are unable to accept these themes will be granted 10 seconds of screen time to leave the cinema. As a result of seeing this film, if any persons develop symptoms of emotion distress, illness, unhappiness, or erectile dysfunction, the film and the cinema would like to make clear that it’s none of our fucking problem!”
The opening narration to Pang Ho-cheung’s 2012 comedy is a nice way to set the style and tone of Vulgaria early. It tells you right off the bat that it’s goofy, fun and generally doesn’t take itself seriously. This is a risky move, and that sort of meta-humour can backfire when a film is unfunny but thankfully, Vulgaria is not.
It centres around To Wai-cheung (Chapman To), a movie producer who is in a Q&A session with a group of film students. He tells them several stories about the difficulties of becoming a film producer, and when one student asks him if he’s ever sacrificed anything for the sake of a movie, he tells them about his latest exploit. Struggling to find financing for his films, To and his friend Lui (Simon Lui) go to see Triad boss Tyrannosaurus (Ronald Cheng) for funding. However, his refusal to eat any of Tyrannosaurus’ weird dishes offends the mobster, and the only thing he can do to please him is drink an entire bottle of hooch, and also have sex with a mule.
In fairness, we don’t really know if he ever did, and maybe that’s for the better. He does, however, get funding but only to make one film: Tyrannosaurus is a huge fan of the Shaw Brothers’ classic Confessions of a Concubine and wants a remake, starring the original actress Siu Yum Yum. Things only go from bad to worse as To has to deal with the director (Matt Chow), his layer ex-wife (Kristal Tin), his terrible assistant (Fiona Sit) and a girlfriend who may or may not be dating him in order to land the leading role (Dada Chan).
Right off the bat, Vulgaria is a hell of a lot of fun. It’s paced pretty well, never going too far in one direction or another. It knows it’s both a gross-out sex comedy, sometimes, and a goofy happy-go-lucky comedy at the same time, and manages a pretty good balancing act throughout. I can see, or imagine, plenty of other films skewing too far in one direction or another and the ability to resist going full-American Pie is pretty impressive.
This comes from veteran director Pang Ho-cheung, of Men Suddenly in Black fame. Like his 2002 comedy (also starring Chapman To), it balance the crude with the sincere but while Men skewed more in the sincere side of things, Vulgaria veers more in the goofy, sexy direction. It’s dumb as a bag of hammers and knows it, but it never plays it up too much. Vulgaria has more than just lame sex jokes up its sleeve.
For example, To often takes a break to addressing the viewers directly, which can be seen as a clever way of reminding us that he’s talking to the students. We’re also treated to moments of genuine affection – though they are few and far between – either between To and his daughter, or To and his new girlfriend. These moments help give To and his weird entourage more depth and make their silly moments feel more genuine.
The only person who really rubbed me the wrong way was To’s wife, who existed only to provide some antagonism. Nothing against Kristal Tin as an actress, but she’s given so little to do other than be cold and cruel that every time she’s on screen, you can’t help but groan. Everyone else has at least one or two moments where they show they aren’t just cookie-cutter characters. Dada Chan’s Popping Candy does a great job with a character that could have very well been very one-note and boring, providing us with a character who has more dimensions than half the rest of the cast.
I definitely don’t see Vulgaria appealing to everyone, but it actually has the potential to appeal to a wider audience with its toned-down attitude towards gross-out stuff, and focusing more on To’s many problems and personal issues. The end result is something that feels maybe less niche and more mass-market, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It has enough fun moments, wall-breaking, and general silliness to please most fans of the genre.
Verdict: It only takes itself seriously when it needs to, and Vulgaria is all the better for it
The Asian Cinema Critic Ratings System
Overall entertainment: 7/10
Sex: 5/10, mostly just crude dialogue
Satirical jabs at the HK film industry: Plenty
Funding: There has to be a better way than this
Mules: Hopefully unmolested
Also known as: 低俗喜劇
Director: Pang Ho-cheung
Writer: Pang Ho-cheung, Lam Chiu-wing, Luk Yee-sum
Chapman To – To Wai-cheung
Ronald Cheng – Tyrannosaurus
Dada Chan – Popping Candy
Fiona Sit – Quin, To’s assistant
Matt Chow – Blackie Tat
Kristal Tin – Barrister Tsang Lai-fong, To’s ex-wife
Lawrence Cheng – university professor Cheng
Simon Lui – Lui Wing-shing, To’s best friend
Lam Suet – Tyrannosaurus’ henchman
Siu Yam-yam – herself
Hiro Hayama – himself
Nora Miao – Miss Cheung
Vincent Kok – CEO of Playboy
Miriam Yeung – Leung
Jim Chim – Firearm Lau
Mak Ling-ling – hypnotist
Films like this: SDU: Sex Duties Unit, Men Suddenly in Black