“72 Tenants of Prosperity” is the second big screen joint production from Shaw Brothers and TVB, and is essentially an updating of the 1973 Shaw hit “House of 72 Tenants”, released domestically as a Lunar New Year comedy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the film’s big draw is its stellar and massive cast of Hong Kong stars and personalities, quite incredibly managing to pack in over 100 talents from the TVB roster and beyond, with many famous faces putting in cameo appearances as themselves. Directed by Eric Tsang and Patrick Kong, the film is a local production in the truest sense of the word, showing a very Hong Kong sense of humour and dealing with a variety of classic and contemporary themes.
The plot basically revolves around two families in Mongkok, headed by Kung (Eric Tsang) and Kin’s (Jacky Cheung), whose rivalry stretches back through the decades since Hong (Anita Yuen), the neighbourhood beauty they were both in love with, married Kung. Now the two run competing mobile phone shops, plotting to outdo each other while trying to keep their heads above water in the face of threatened closure by a mainland businessman (Leung Tin) who plans to redevelop the area. At the same time, romantic complications ensue when their various children start to fall for each other, with Kung’s son (Bosco Wong) pursuing Kin’s daughter (Stephy Tang) despite their fathers’ objections.
There actually is quite a lot more to the plot of “72 Tenants of Prosperity”, though to list all of its shenanigans would require a long and convoluted list of misunderstandings and sub “Romeo and Juliet” style romances that wouldn’t really do justice to the fact that the film works surprisingly well despite its narrative clumsiness and excess. The film is very much in the Lunar New Year manner, meaning a fair amount of nonsense, though Eric Tsang and Patrick Kong’s direction is energetic and breezy rather than chaotic, making for engaging viewing that though unfocused is at least never overly random or undeservedly melodramatic. The film has the feel of an old school Hong Kong farce, and the whole childhood friends turned warring shopkeepers theme is pleasantly familiar, making for plenty of wacky schemes as the two try to usurp each other. The film benefits greatly from having a genuinely local feel, and does have an authentically Hong Kong atmosphere and style, dealing with issues such as rent rises, mainland Chinese business redevelopment and even rooftop acid attacks.
Obviously, the film’s main selling point is its amazing ensemble cast, and it really does manage to pull together a mind boggling collection of stars from TVB, the big screen, the music industry, and other famous faces. Although it would be impossible to list all of the cameos here, this does include the likes of Lam Suet, Kelly Chen, Myolie Wu, Gordon Lam, Andy Hui, and many, many others. It would likely take a real Hong Kong expert to recognise them all, though thankfully the film uses most of them for throwaway cameos or gags, and even viewers with only a passing knowledge of Hong Kong pop culture aren’t left out of the fun too much. The cast all seem to be having a fine old time, and whilst the film does at times feel a little like playing spot the star, this does help to keep things interesting, with a few amusing surprise appearances along the way.
Inevitably, this does result in quite a few groan worthy self referential gags, for example about Kin resembling and sounding like Jacky Cheung, though Tsang and Kong wisely don’t push this too far. Whilst a lot of the humour is fairly broad slapstick, the film is generally very funny, with some fairly creative gags revolving around Kung and Kin’s odd attempts to push their phones, which somehow seems to result in several random musical numbers. At the same time, the film includes some spot on film references, predictably to “Ip Man” and Donnie Yen, as well as the other recent Shaw TVB collaboration, “Turning Point”. Oddly, the film’s funniest moments come through a strange line in Japan AV related jokes, with Stephy Tang’s character having worked in the industry and being inexplicably obsessed with its admirable work ethic.
Offbeat touches like this give “72 Tenants of Prosperity” a real lift, and it works well both as an opportunity to see an incredible amount of Hong Kong luminaries all together in one film, and as an above average Lunar New Year comedy. Cheerful and fun throughout, though nothing particularly new or clever, it entertains in familiar and inoffensive fashion, and marks another successful outing for Shaw Brothers and TVB.
Shu-Kai Chung, Patrick Kong, Eric Tsang (director) / Patrick Kong, Eric Tsang, Yeung-tat Wong , Kam-Hung Yip, Tin-Shing Yip (screenplay)
CAST: Jacky Cheung … Shek Kin
Eric Tsang … Ha Kung
Anita Yuen … Pinky
Bosco Wong … Ha Chai
Stephy Tang … Kin Nui
Cho-lam Wong … Kin Chai
Ka-Yan Chung … Ha Nui