2015 Fantasia Film Festival Review: Hong Kong film Robbery

Derek Tsang, left, and J. Arie  in a scene from the Hong Kong film Robbery. They play convenience-store employees whose lives are in danger when they are help hostage in the store. Robbery will be shown at the 2015 edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Derek Tsang, left, and J. Arie in a scene from the Hong Kong film Robbery. They play convenience-store employees whose lives are in danger when they are help hostage in the store. Robbery will be shown at the 2015 edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

The Hong Kong film Robbery will make you think more than twice about a late-night visits to the dep (or convenience store, for you non-Montrealers).

Robbery is a very black comedy, that’s to say, many parts are hilarious, but several people do end up dead. I was expecting the laughs, but not the deaths. Surprise!

In an early scene, Robbery’s main character, Lau Kin Ping, (played by Derek Tsang, 曾國祥) seems like a slacker, and a stoned one at that, but you can’t blame him much; he’s just one more poor guy in the cutthroat world of Hong Kong. After watching Bruce Lee’s advice to “Be like water, my friend,” Lau remarks that he’s 32, the same age the martial-arts actor was when he died, and adds: “I’m just a joke.”

Late one aimless night, Ping impulsively applies for a job in a 24-hour convenience store; he’s hired right away. The store is called Exceed. You know, as in “excessive.” This name is no accident, my friends.

The storeowner is played by Lam Suet (林雪). Anyone who’s seen more than a handful of HK films will probably know his face. He usually plays gangsters, and he often plays them for director Johnnie To. As the boss he’s quite cranky and insists that his employees push sell that night’s special, a $5 package of Pop Rocks. (Don’t freak out, one Hong Kong dollar is only worth 82 Canadian cents. Pretty good deal, actually!)

Ping’s co-worker, Mabel, is played by pop singer J. Arie. Ping is embarrassed because she’s better than he is at scanning etc., and she’s kind of smug about it, too, despite this, they soon establish a rapport.

Ping barely has time to settle in before his first customer arrives. One thing leads to another, very smoothly too, and before you know it, there are three unstable, unpredictable criminals, with assorted weapons, in the store. They are NOT working together, either. Far from it. Ping, Mabel, their boss and one unlucky customer are trapped in the store with these dangerous loons. Hmmmm, I wonder if they use the expression “Murphys’s Law: in Hong Kong?

Every time a new customer walks in, crooks and hostages try to act perfectly, excruciatingly, normal until that customer buys something and leaves. Lots of laughs and tension in those episodes. The film could have ended after the arrival of several police officers – but then it would have been a short, not a feature.

Derek Tsang, left,  as a newly hired convenience-store clerk and Lam Suet as his cranky boss in a scene from the Hong Kong film Robbery. Robbery will be shown at the 2015 edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Derek Tsang, left, as a newly hired convenience-store clerk and Lam Suet as his cranky boss in a scene from the Hong Kong film Robbery. Robbery will be shown at the 2015 edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

There’s lots to like in Robbery – writer/director Fire Lee (aka LEE Ka Wing, or Ka Wing LEE) has fun with film clichés like macho posturing, super-observant people: training montages; walking in slow-motion, defusing a bomb, while seconds tick by on a conveniently large display; people pretending to be someone they’re not, and/or being perceived as someone they’re not; the old Mexican standoff (people standing in a circle pointing guns at each other), etc. Several flashbacks put a whole new light on the characters. And then there are the platitudes like this one: “Pain is good. . . pain is a feeling, it lets humans know they are alive.” Not to mention: “But you have ME!”

Quibbles: One female star has to wear a skimpy outfit in her scenes at the store, and perform an amateur strip tease, along with other humiliations. In regard to the outfit, writer/director Fire Lee might claim that he was showing: 1) how people judge a book by its cover; 2) the person who forced her to do these things is a very evil dude; 3) that he was mocking a cliché. Maybe, but to me this is just pandering to a segment of the male audience. Before anyone asks if sex is bad while deaths are OK, I’d say that the film could have been quite funny without either.

Somewhat random info and thoughts connected to Robbery: Fire Lee wrote the script for revenge flick Sasori, which was shown at Fantasia in 2008.
Actor/director Derek Tsang is the son of actor Eric Tsang. Derek Tsang is 35 now, and might have been 34 when Robbery was made, though he looks much younger. Derek Tsang went to the University of Toronto; he used to live in Vancouver.

J. Arie’s real name is Rachel Lui. She’s an accomplished piano player who also has a degree in law (to make her traditional parents happy.)
The berets that the Hong Kong police wear look quite dashing. Are their shirts really so form-fitting?

Robbery will be shown at the Fantasia International Film Festival, which runs from July 14 until Aug. 4, 2015.

Read more about it on Robbery’s page at the Fantasia web site.

Robbery: Written and directed by Fire Lee ( Ka Wing Lee)
Starring: Derek Tsang, J.Arie, Lam Suet, Feng Tsui Fan, Philip Keung, Anita Chui, Eric Kwok, Aaron Chow, Edward Ma
In Cantonese with English subtitles
90 minutes long

Saturday, July 18, 2015 at 18:45, and Tuesday, July 28, 2015, at 15:10, in the J.A. de Sève Theatre, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

 

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