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The one and only Wong Jing returns to familiar territory with his latest comedy “Beauty on Duty!”, basically a remake of the 2000 Hollywood Sandra Bullock vehicle “Miss Congeniality”. The premise of an attractive young policewoman infiltrating a beauty contest certainly sounds tailor made for the shlockmeister, providing ample opportunity not only for gags, but perhaps more importantly for ogling attractive gorgeous actresses and models. To these ends, the film brings together an impressive cast headlined by Charlene Choi, with support from genre veterans such as Sandra Ng, Sammy Leung, Jim Chim, Cheung Tat Ming, Kingdom Yuen, Lam Suet, and Hui Siu Hung. Somewhat of a throwback to the likes of “Love Undercover” and other favourites, the film was a box office hit, showing again that Wong Jing is one of Hong Kong’s most enduringly popular directors of popcorn fare.
Choi stars as rookie policewoman Chung Oi Fong who makes an impression on her first day when she and action packed partner Chow Chi Dan (Fan Siu Wong, “Ip Man 2”) save mob snitch Fat Wai (Lam Suet) from killers hired by portly drug boss Brother Tin (Wong Jing himself). Fat agrees to testify against the kingpin, though only if the police promise to protect his daughter Kwan (Maggie Li, “On His Majesty’s Secret Service”) as she takes part in a high profile beauty pageant. Going along with his bizarre request, Fong is sent undercover as a contestant, helped by her cop father and wacky superior officers (Sandra Ng and Lu Yi) to befriend and protect the girl. Needless to say, complications and misunderstandings a-plenty ensue, as Fong rapidly becomes the favourite to win the contest and even catches the eye of a pop idol singer (William Chan).
As the exclamation mark in its title probably suggests, “Beauty on Duty!” is unmistakably a Wong Jing film, taking a broad, scattershot approach to its gags and multitude of subplots as he tries to pack in something to please everyone. The jokes certainly come thick and fast, and are the expected mixture of cheap slapstick and pop culture references. Although some of these may well go over the heads of non-local viewers (in particular those relating to Jim Chim’s hilarious turn as a rather effeminate television executive), the film is definitely one of Wong’s more consistently humorous efforts, with a number of genuinely amusing, if low brow set pieces – including of course the now obligatory “Ip Man” and Donnie Yen spoofery. Some of these do get a little weird, involving hypnotism, crocodile suits, corpse disposal and that old classic, itching powder, though this adds a not unwelcome air of randomness. Thankfully, he doesn’t push the boat out too far, and though nonsensical and driven by whim rather than narrative, the film is coherent enough for things to remain entertaining throughout.
A large part of this is down to the game cast, all of whom seem to be having a lot of fun, and not taking themselves, or indeed the film too seriously. Although at 27 and given all of the tabloid revelations about her personal life Charlene Choi is perhaps a little beyond playing the wide eyed cutesy innocent, she turns in a likeable performance in the lead, squealing and making a fool of herself as required – as well as probably managing to raise a few more cynical sniggers from the audience as she goes through the motions of playing her usual ingénue type. The film borders on being an ensemble piece, with Sandra Ng, Lam Suet and Hui Siu Hun all reliable as ever, and Lu Yi and Fan Siu Wong getting plenty of laughs through their scenes pretending to be gay fashionistas.
All of this adds to a very amiable air, and though not exactly sharp or demanding, “Beauty on Duty!” is a solid effort, certainly by Wong Jing’s sometimes questionable standards. Boosted by an appealing cast and with the on target gags just about out weighing the lame misses, the film should be enjoyed by anyone happy enough to turn their brain off for an hour and a half and just let the cheerful silliness wash over them.
Jing Wong (director) / Jing Wong (screenplay)
CAST: Charlene Choi … Chung Oi-Fong
Sandra Ng Kwan Yue … Iron Mary
Sui-man Chim … Stephen Sum
Siu-Wong Fan … Donnie Yuen
William Chan Wai-Ting … Jerry
Yi Lu … Lu Chi-On