Hong Kong action director Johnny To (TRIAD ELECTION, BLIND DETECTIVE among 70 directorial credits) does a Chinese musical satirizing office culture in the mildly amusing but ambitious OFFICE. OFFICE was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015 before release though it never made it to Canada. And OFFICE is full of unexpected surprises.
The story of OFFICE follows the IPO (Initial Public Offering) of shares by a major company led by the Chairman (Chow Yun-Fat) and his CEO who also happens to be his mistress (Sylvia Chang). Meanwhile, his wife is comatose in the hospital. But they are clever people as they control money and not let money control them, as the CEO advises a newbie at one point in the film.
The film opens as two new interns show up at the posh financial company Jones & Sunn. Lee Xiang (Ziyi Wang) and Kat-Ho (Yueting Lang), start new jobs but learn that there are lots of kissing asses and dirty business that need be done in order to be successful. Lee Xiang is earnest and naive. He goes about saying his name Lee is from Ang Lee (the Taiwanese director) and Xiang means thinking. Two other characters that play a part in the plot are high flyers Sophie (Wei Tang) and David (Eason Chan) who forge financial figures.
OFFICE is pleasant to the eyes – great set decoration and design. The fathomless office space with countess desks and faceless employees at each desk not only look stunning (credit to production designer William Cheung) but gets the point across. Each office space is designed artistically and modern, often with crystalline and curved shapes. Wardrobe, especially those worn by Sylvia Chang are haute couture.
The characters break into song at any time with the film looking a bit similar as a result, to LALA LAND. But the songs are often clumsily inserted, and break the flow of the narrative, despite a few being really inventive, especially if one understands Chinese in order to get the innuendo. Songs are by 1980s pop icon Lo Ta-yu.
OFFICE is based on the play “Design For Living” written (as is the film ) by screen veteran Sylvia Chang who also plays a lead as the company CEO. The film is shot in both Mandarin (when they speak in the office) and Cantonese (when they speak more casually to friends and family).
OFFICE barely succeeds as a musical and satire and runs a bit long at just under two hours. The novelty of the sets and songs wears off quite soon. Being a Johnny To film, one feels that guns could start blazing at various points in the film. Still for sheer courage of ingenuity, OFFICE is worth a look for its eccentricity.
OFFICE has a special screening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on October the 28th at 930 pm. OFFICE is screened as part of TIFF Cinematheque’s first retrospective on Johnny To entitled “Expect the Unexpected”.