Director: Coba Cheng
Cast: Ronald Cheng, Gigi Leung, Edan Lui, Sandra Ng
Runtime: 1 hr 31 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Sexual References)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures and Clover Films
Opening Day: 14 July 2022
Synopsis: The COVID-19 pandemic offered white-collar workers everywhere the chance to work from home. At first, it seemed like a luxury to be able to work outside the shackles of the office. But for Coba, work-from-home has led to a daily cage match with his family! From deciding whether to turn “Coba mother’s homemade sauce” into an online business to choosing which type of bottle to use for packaging, long-hidden family conflicts are on the verge of erupting again. Soon enough, the family’s daily tugs-of-war become even spicier than chili sauce.
Intended for release during this Chinese New Year before being deferred due to the COVID-19 lockdown in Hong Kong, ‘Chilli Laugh Story’ is nevertheless just as amusing, delightful and heart-warming even outside of the spirit of the season.
Adapted by first-time filmmaker Coba Cheng from his own real-life family story, it follows the ups and downs of a humble family’s attempt to turn their traditional homemade chilli sauce into a successful online business during the days of the pandemic.
Ronald Cheng is the father Alan, who has developed a curious interest in nature documentaries since being cooped at home. Gigi Leung is the mother Rita, who is quietly upset that her husband and son do not quite care about the effort she puts into in order to make the sauce. And last but not least, Edan Lui is Coba himself, who by sheer coincidence impresses his high school friends with his mother’s chilli sauce and realises it could very well be a business opportunity.
As scripted by (Coba) Cheng with veteran screenwriter Matthew Chow, the movie is also a reflection of the aspirations and anxieties of the Hong Kong population. Rita dreams of buying her own apartment, so much so that she uses her son’s name to apply for a bank mortgage without even consulting Coba. On the other hand, Alan’s nephew is eager to move his entire family to the UK, even if it means leaving his mother (Sandra Ng) behind, in the hopes that his young daughter will have a better life there than if she stays in Hong Kong.
Like producer Sandra Ng’s ‘Golden Chicken’, the events of ‘Chilli Laugh Story’ are similarly set against the real-life backdrop of the pandemic for greater resonance. You can imagine therefore how families who never had to spend so much time staring at one another would feel cooped up or suffocated, or how cooking became a convenient hobby for many, or even how those who either tested positive or were identified as close contacts had to be self-isolated in hotels-turned-quarantine centres.
Even as it references these events, ‘Chilli Laugh Story’ is first and foremost an affirmation of family, and it is in this regard that it proves winning. Through the minutiae of getting the online business up and running, the movie chronicles how both Coba’s parents come to rally behind him, especially his initially skeptical father, as well as how success triggers not just envy from within the larger extended family but also greed from corporate types. That the immediate family eventually comes together should be no surprise, but the journey there is utterly sincere and heartfelt.
Indeed, to director (Coba) Cheng’s credit, there is hardly a melodramatic moment in the film; instead, the relationships here are textured and measured, from how deep Alan’s love for Rita runs, to Alan’s pride for his son Coba, and to the depth of a mother’s love for her son. Besides Lui, the performers here are all veterans, and the ease with which they slip into their roles as well as their chemistry with one another further makes this family comedy-drama all the more poignant.
Complementing the cast of (Ronald) Cheng, Leung, Lui and Ng are droll cameos from the likes of Lo Hoi Pang, Hong Kong boyband Error and Louis Koo, and it is heartening just to see how the formula for such Hong Kong CNY movies can still be relevant, including and especially such name puns as 'Molly Yau' and 'Francis Wong'. Oh yes, as predicable as it may be, ‘Chilli Laugh Story’ is precisely the comfort food you want it to be. There is no guise, no artifice or any special effects for that matter here; this is plain and simple a story about what it means to be family, and we must say that is exactly what we love about it.
(Filled with heart and humour, this belated CNY offering is amusing, delightful and heart-warming even outside of the spirit of the season)
Review by Gabriel Chong