I’d been looking forward to seeing this movie for quite a while. Not just because of the movie, but because its release had been delayed for a long time.
Mark Wu wrote, directed, and co-starts in Undercover Duet. He wrote and directed Due West: Our Sex Journey. He wrote Lan Kwai Fong 1 and 2. And Iceman 3D. And Lives in Flames.
But I watched Undercover Duet anyway.
It tells the story of James, an aspiring actor who lives with is sister, played by Ava Yu. She’s as blind as two bats, which should be clear from the way she’s dressed. James witnesses and videos a crime. A lot of people want the evidence, Or they want James dead.
The local police want James to testify. So they enlist the aid of D Dragon, played by Ronald Cheng Chung Kei. He’s a local undercover cop who was raised in Harlem.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much the movie avoids the abundant minefield of potential racism that so often appears in local films. Luckily for us we’re not expected to take it seriously, and we’re expected to laugh at the character as well as the things he says.
I know I did. I laughed my ass off. The credit for that goes to Ronald Cheng, whose performance is funny, engaging, and, in a strange way, convincing. He switches effortlessly between Cantonese and English, though the English tends to be profanity 90% of the time.
It don’t make you a bad person, I’m just f@#$in’ saying.
I think it helped the movie avoid a Category III rating, because in Hong Kong, English foul language isn’t considered nearly as offensive as Cantonese ‘cho hau.’ So that means Undercover Duet is rated IIB. Which explains why there was a family of four sitting behind me in the cinema. It doesn’t explain why one of the two young boys parroted every single English swear word Ronald Cheng uttered.
Undercover Duet is funny, and entertaining, but I wouldn’t want to say it’s a good movie. I will say that I sincerely doubt it was ever intended to be. It’s a (very) lowbrow local comedy, and the audience I watched it with seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly. There’s a lot of verbal humor, some slapstick, and at least one sequence that is gleefully juvenile but at the same time nauseatingly squirm-inducing.
I was sincerely impressed by Mark Wu’s willingness to self-deprecate; he makes himself the butt of a lot of jokes and seems willing to do virtually anything to get a laugh. And I mean anything.
So like a lot of local movies, Undercover Duet is basically cinematic fast food. Cheap, greasy, and just the thing when you’re in the right mood.
If you go to McDonalds, you have no one to blame for the quality of the food except the moron who placed your order.
All that said, there is still a lot to enjoy in Undercover Duet. As I said, the verbal comedy is funny, even to someone like me whose Cantonese is rudimentary at best. There’s also some pretty impressive stunt work from Ronald Cheng. I was watching him closely, and he does a lot of his own work.
Tony Ho delivers his usual solid performance as a… well, I’m not sure what he is, but he’s good in the role, and that’s what matters.
Peter So Man Fung, aka Master So, self-deprecatingly plays a cop whose knowledge of feng shui and other associated nonsense plays too large a role in the investigation.
Wen Chao appears, and thankfully doesn’t resort to his near-chronic Stephen Chow imitation.
There’s a huge number of cameos in the film. They vary in length, from the literally momentary appearance of Gregory Wong to a scene-length appearance from Chrissie Chau.
Also appearing are Sammy Sum, Phat Chan, Dominic Ho, Jessica C, and Miki Yeung, among others.
You’ve probably never heard of Zhang Chuanqi/张传奇 (I know I haven’t), but he bears a striking resemblance to a very famous local movie star. From certain angles, anyway. There are some very local and very topical jokes, including a new report from ‘April Dairy’ in the unique style for which a similarly named news organization is famous.
The South American psychotropic Ayahuasca makes an appearance, which I found nearly as surreal as the drug itself. From what I’ve read.
Speaking of surreal, the occasional serious parts of this film often come off as more convincing than a lot of serious scenes in other movies.
Also speaking of surreal, why was that guy pissing blood?
And why did I have to see it???