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“The Fortune Buddies” is the latest big screen outing from TVB and Shaw Brothers, following up on their successful “72 Tenants of Prosperity” and “I Love Hong Kong”. Produced as usual by Eric Tsang and directed by studio regular Chung Sue Kie, who was also recently responsible for the comedy “Adventure of the King”, the wacky film revolves around Louis Yuen, Wong Cho Lam and Johnson Lee, famed for their TVB comedy sketch program “Fun with Liza And Gods” as three down on their luck men who end up becoming wrestlers. As well as a supporting cast that includes Fiona Sit (“The Way we Were”), Maggie Cheung (“Punished”), Hong Kong veteran Pauline Wong and Tsang himself, the film unsurprisingly packs in a huge number of cameos, including, but not limited to Michael Tse, King Kong, Richard Ng, Lam Suet, Tin Kai Man and Bosco Wong.
Louis Yuen, Wong Cho Lam and Johnson Lee play Fook Yuen, Luk Wong and Sao Lee, three down on their luck friends living in the same cramped apartment and trying unsuccessfully to find work at the local job centre. Luk in particular is desperate to earn some cash, needing the money for a down payment on an apartment so that he can win right to marry his long suffering girlfriend Fiona (Fiona Sit) from her disapproving father Eric Tsang. During a bout of street performing they accidentally manage to knock out a top American wrestler, and in the process become internet sensations. Challenged to a lucrative rematch by a wrestling promoter (Maggie Cheung), they turn to Fiona’s father for help, who just happens to be a wrestling coach and ex-brawler himself.
Anyone familiar with the recent TVB/Shaw Brothers films should already have a pretty good idea of what to expect with “The Fortune Buddies”, with director Chung Sue Kie following closely what has so far proved a successful formula. Certainly, the film sticks to playing to its target audience of TVB fans and local audiences, with gags likely to go over the heads of outsiders and a stream of cameo appearances that might well go unnoticed to anyone not in the know.
Thankfully, there’s still plenty to enjoy here for more casual viewers, and most of the humour still has a pretty broad appeal, with a fair amount of its pop culture references being amusingly recognisable, such as a long running joke involving “Infernal Affairs” and a bizarre series of nods to phone game phenomenon “Angry Birds” (complete with sound effects). The comedy is predominantly based around wacky slapstick and generally works well, providing a decent quotient of laughs, and with Chung pulling together a few creative set pieces and getting a fair bit of mileage out of the pleasingly outlandish wrestling concept. Although unintentional, possibly the funniest parts of the film are its brazen scenes of product placement, with a constant parade of branded goods being thrust at the screen in hilariously unsubtle fashion.
The film also shows what amounts to a more serious side, attempting to deal with a few real issues, such as the likeable Luk Wong’s efforts to impress Tsang as his potential future father-in-law and his need to become a property owner before he can get married. Although predictably the film’s more melodramatic elements never really manage to convince, they do help to ground the silliness somewhat, with financial pressure and unemployment being very real threats which audiences from anywhere in the world can relate to. Chung doesn’t dig too deeply into these themes, being content for things mainly to play out as an underdog sports story of sorts, and although the outcome is never in any doubt, there’s an overall upbeat atmosphere and the film is a feel-good affair.
As a result, whilst never particularly memorable, “The Fortune Buddies” makes for fun, amiable viewing and should certainly be enjoyed by fans of TVB or of Hong Kong comedies in general. Although some of its references are clearly aimed at natives, on the plus side the film does benefit from having a uniquely local feel, more so than many of the other Mainland targeted comedies starting to crowd the genre.
Shu-Kai Chung (director) / Yeung-tat Wong (screenplay)
CAST: Macy Chan
Maggie Cheung Ho Yee