All’s Well Ends Well: One of the best of early 1990s cinema with Stephen Chow

Family-friendly comedy, re-released with an added scene, is a time capsule of the best of early 1990s cinema that radiates the Hong Kong spirit better than most; Leslie Cheung’s presence adds poignancy.

I miss screwball comedies. I’m not saying I don’t like current trends in films. Just that I miss films that just go nuts with a farce setup and let thing proceed from there. So, I came across All’s Well Ends Well (Anh Chang Dao Hoa), from 1992. A Hong Kong New Year film (where a film was released to coincide with the Lunar New Year thereby getting the largest audience). It has a cross-section of the best of Hong Kong’s actors at the time and an insanely wicked script.

Moon (Raymond Wong) is a salaryman working for a Hong Kong company who ignores his wife Leng (Sandra Ng). Sleeps with his mistress Sheila (Sheila Chan) and tries to keep both lives separate. So (Leslie Cheung) is a loyal son of the family. But who butts heads with the family’s second cousin Mo-seung (Teresa Mo). Finally, Foon (Stephen Chow) is a radio DJ who flirts and sleeps with as many girls as he can but finds himself chasing after Holli-yuk (Maggie Cheung), a film lover who dates by a film she’s seen recently. In short order, Moon gets caught with Sheila and moves her in when Leng flies, So goes to war with Mo-seung to try and best her and Foon gets a bump on the noggin for his attempts to ditch Holli-yuk.

Before we go any further, the whole point of All’s Well, Ends Well is that there’s not much point to it beyond the setup so my normal criticism of the whole thing being threadbare doesn’t apply. This is why I miss farce comedies. They don’t need to be held to normal standards. But if they comment on things going on in the filmmaker’s world in a metatextual context. This is the icing on the cake. Unsuccessful farce comedies mistake the rolling chaos normally present in a comedy with destruction derby tactics. So explosions and gross-out humour overrides “wait, what just happened to that guy flying down the stairs?”

In any event, the film’s three-point structure works well for the most part. Moon’s crisis’ get worse when Leng leaves and Sheila comes in. In both cases, the girls swap roles: Leng becomes a classy lady working in a hostess bar and Sheila (a former beauty pageant contestant) becomes the house marm. I really liked Chan’s transformation the most as she completely becomes the character that Ng had been playing up until that point. I liked her nagging sessions with Wong’s Moon because you can see Moon isn’t learning anything. But Sheila is catching on fast why Leng left. As for Wong’s performance as Moon. He has to take a backseat at the midpoint so a lot of his energy is in the family performances with his brothers as they have their own problems.

Stephen Chow’s Foon is the highlight of the film with a virtuoso double act with Maggie Cheung as they fall for each other (her in love, he in lust). But it’s the scenes where their love of film comes to the fore; Misery, Ghost, Madonna’s music video, Terminator 2 all get their shot plus every film Foon lists to impress Holli-yuk. I really thought this was the best until Stephen Chow gets a bump on the head and starts to go gaga. Please lookout for the scene where the hospital doctor lists all the symptoms of Foon’s condition. And Chow acts them out except when the doctor gets to period problems and Foon stops, turns to address the doctor and says “Really??!”, it is one of the best scenes.

Maggie Cheung has a blast playing Holli-yuk, at times shallow and at others, deeply hurt. That the one she wants doesn’t know who she is after they got together. The scenes where she goes nuts and transforms into Kathy Bates from Misery are so good. And the fact that Stephen Chow (Chau Tinh Tri) just sits there dribbling in front of her makes her performance more golden. If I had a complaint. It’s that So’s arc is somewhat reduced to screaming at Teresa Mo for half the film. And shamelessly hate-flirting with her until they end up together.

It’s funny but there’s no real energy to it until the last twenty minutes of the film. Cheung is amazing as So, playing a slightly effeminate floral arranger who shamelessly snipes at the enemies of his family while at the same time covering for his sister in law and his brothers even when he doesn’t think it’s worth it.

Teresa Mo has an equally amazing turn playing an acupuncture-loving, leather biker chick hot head. I mean, how cool is it when you drive a motorbike (no, really) through a house looking for your enemy, pause outside an open toilet where someone is pooping, chat with them, and then carry out with your search? Teresa Mo-cool, that’s how. Finally, both Sheila Chan and Sandra Ng deserve equal measure for their amazing turns, running from broken down housewives to rage monsters with murder on their minds and class acts who can break a man’s will with a wilting “Really?” look. Their transformations are both internal. As they realise their worth, and external as they change from high business to high speed.

The film itself, which would spawn multiple sequels that would keep most of the cast going throughout, runs at a steady pace clearing all opposition with chases, falls, buildings getting trashed, the cast being assaulted. And every type of background being used. The film, through Foon and Holli-yuk’s love, uses multiple film scenes to great effect. In fact, the extended edition of the film has a shootout scene at the end where dozens of thugs get gunned down in a near-perfect re-enactment of one of John Woo’s heroic bloodshed tropes. All in all, the film earns its stripes by dragging its cast through hell for laughs. And back out again in time for the cheesiest love conquers all ending we knew we were going to get.

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