Starring: Chapman To, Dada Chan, Lawrence Cheng
Director: Pang Ho-cheung
Running Time: 92 mins
Vulgaria is a Hong Kong film about a movie producer who recounts his tales of the business, and the extents to which he has gone to get his movies made.
While it’s perhaps not as raunchy and vulgar as it may think, Vulgaria is a surprisingly enjoyable descent into lurid comedic idiocy. While it lacks heavily in the story department, it makes up for that with a charismatic lead performance, energetic direction and a generally fun-loving atmosphere that works well with a good brand of vulgar humour to make for an undeniably entertaining watch throughout.
Of course, it’s probably best to make clear what sort of sense of humour this film has, considering its title and general atmosphere would lead you to think it’s an endlessly lurid and vulgar comedy. On the one hand, the movie does try to push the boundaries when it comes to showing and talking about what’s actually acceptable, and there are moments when it oversteps that boundary and loses some of its provocative comedic value.
On the other hand, many viewers in Western countries in particular will look at a film like Vulgaria and think little of its supposedly provocative nature. What’s considered vulgar and raunchy in Hong Kong isn’t necessarily the same as other countries, and films like this prove that what a lot of viewers in the West see in mainstream cinema is actually far more vulgar, meaning that this film’s main intention can be lost a little on some international viewers.
That difficult balance between comedy that’s either too vulgar, not vulgar enough or just right means that Vulgaria never really thrills with its sense of humour, yet it still manages to hit a fairly enjoyable middleground that combines comedy that’s still a little on the edgy side for all viewers with a slightly more reigned-in approach than what you often see from Hollywood.
However, that couldn’t work without the film’s real trump card, the thoroughly entertaining lead performance from Chapman To, as well as his supporting cast. Playing a tireless movie producer who goes to the most ridiculous of lengths to get projects financed, To proves both a likable and hilariously cartoonish lead throughout, and that works wonders for you as a viewer when it comes to taking his side as he finds himself in all manner of ludicrous situations.
As well as an equally likable supporting turn from Dada Chan in a role that’s often a little underdeveloped in similar films, your connection to the main characters plays a big part in being able to enjoy some of the film’s more idiotic comedy, and the energy that the lead actors give in those sequences make the film a whole lot more fun to watch than if it were simply reliant on vulgar, gross-out nonsense.
I won’t say that the movie excels when it comes to telling a riveting story, and although it occasionally impresses with a good bit of character depth – particularly in the third act – it’s not a film that will grab you from beginning to end and take you on a comedic rollercoaster of a ride, however it does at least have the charisma and fun-loving energy throughout to make for a surprisingly enjoyable watch, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5.