Bickering cousins get embroiled in a robbery gone wrong in Wong Jing’s pretty decent farce.
“You’re wicked. You killed him so that no one wins?”
I’ve always been a fan of Maggie Cheung, who’s proven time and again how easily she can slip into different genres. From her origins as the female sidekick in Police Story, to her leading dramatic roles in many of Wong Kar-wai’s films, her portfolio was as varied as her career was long (and still is, whenever she chooses to exit retirement). But it’s her presence within Hong Kong’s flourishing comedy scene in the 80s and 90s that marked her as an important figure within a heavy male-dominated film industry. Doubles Cause Troubles isn’t a standout film in any sense of the world, but its two very funny leads certainly made it worth checking out.
Zhu (Maggie Cheung) and Liang (Carol Cheng) are cousins who are constantly bickering. After the death of their grandmother (or nana, depending on which you ask) the two are told that in order to inherit a luxurious apartment they have to live together for some months. Around this point, it’s tempting to be a bit discouraged. After all, this is some I Love Lucy–level stuff: you can see where this is all going. Cheung and Cheng are going to spend the rest of the movie causing War of the Roses–esque shenanigans – and this seems especially true after they discover the apartment comes with a tenant, Ben (Tom Poon), with whom they both want to sleep.
But things take an interesting twist when Ben is revealed to be a shady figure – a corrupt cop, we learn – and after a meeting with some gangsters (Yi–Sheng Han, Fun Lo and Sherman Wong), is mortally wounded. He staggers back to the apartment and dies in Zhu’s arms. It’s a good twist on our expectations of what will come next. After Liang’s Triad admirer Handsome (Pak–Cheung Chan) and his subordinate Cangying (Charlie Cho) show up, we’re introduced to another character Sam (Wilsom Lam), who claims to be Ben’s brother. While the two women fawn over Sam’s bafflingly good looks, the gangsters close in – hoping to find an item stolen from them by Ben.
Unlike a lot of Wong Jing’s films, Doubles Cause Troubles never falls into his usual pit of trying too hard to be silly. There are a few plot contrivances here and there, but nothing that really makes you groan, like City Hunter or From Vegas to Macau. Here, Wong showcases a bit of restraint, and as a result the film might be more predictable and rote, but far easier to sit through. He lets the silliness come out less in absurd situations and more in the way his actors react to one another. Cheung, Cheng and Chan all have excellent comedic timing – especially Chan whose Handsome is notoriously prone to moments of physical comedy. These are the moments that really shine and work for the film. The plot – as much as it tries – isn’t really the point. You know where it’s going, and the “twist” villain will surprise you about as much as the ending of an episode of Scooby-Doo. So the cast does the heavy lifting, and the movie is better for it.
It might be mean to say, but if I had to pick a weakest link, it was that Wilson Lam brought nothing to the movie. In fact, in an interesting role–reversal, he mostly played the role of the otherwise uninteresting eye candy for the majority of the film: something usually reserved for long–suffering female actors. What Doubles Cause Troubles does really well (as do a lot of similar comedies of the time) is feature strong female leads who bounce of each other without always needing a male character to steer the plot. Ming–yuk Kwan’s Officer Xu and Fun Lo’s butch gangster offer new dynamics for women within the story and in a world where people lose their minds over female Ghostbusters (seemingly ignoring the ground work set by Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler and countless others), it’s good to see that Cheung, Cheng and numerous other women were smashing it decades earlier in Hong Kong.
So what’s there to say? Frankly, looking at it objectively, Doubles Cause Troubles is nothing special or spectacular. It is, however, quite funny at times and features a number of great actors in parts that allow them to stretch their comedic muscles. It feels a tad overlong, despite only clocking in at 90 minutes, especially once the final act starts and there are few surprises left. But overall, I’m glad I saw it. I’ve historically never been the biggest fan of Wong Jing and his style of filmmaking, but Doubles Cause Troubles rests neatly in the “good” section of his works, proving that sometimes, derivation is better.
Verdict: Not as bad as I was expecting, but not as good as I was hoping, Doubles Cause Troubles cruises on the charisma and talent of its stars.
Overall entertainment: 6.5/10
Sex: Brief shirtless Wilson Lam/10
Troubles: Plenty more
Secret identities: Even more
Favourite sight gag: Cangying used as a headrest when everyone is tied up
Doubles Cause Troubles (1989)
Also known as: Shen yong shuang mei mai
Director: Wong Jing
Writer: Wong Jing
Carol Cheng – Liang
Maggie Cheung – Zhu Yingtai
Wilson Lam – Sam
Pak–Cheung Chan – Handsome
Charlie Cho – Cangying
Yi-Sheng Han – Viper
Fun Lo – Mainland Gangster
Tom Poon – Ben
Sherman Wong – Mainland Gangster
Ming–yuk Kwan – Xu Shuzhen