THE MOVIE EMPEROR (红毯先生) (2024)

Genre: Comedy/Drama
Director: Ning Hao
Cast: Andy Lau, Pal Sinn Lap Man, Rima Zeidan, Daniel Yu, Kelly Lin, Ning Hao
Runtime: 2 hrs 5 min
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: mm2 Entertainment
Official Website: 

Opening Day: 10 February 2024

Synopsis: Hong Kong movie star Lau Wai-chi (Andy Lau) misses out on the Hong Kong film awards again. Reflecting on his declining popularity, he starts creating tribute videos, but it feels like a desperate attempt to regain his stardom. He decides he needs to make a comeback through a new film. He contacts Chinese director Lin Hao (Ning Hao), known for his authentic and gritty filmmaking, to star in a film set in the countryside. Believing that this will be the key to restoring his career to its former glory. Lau Wai-chi is determined to challenge himself by portraying an ordinary farmer. A role far removed from his usual glamorous characters. But used to a life of luxury and privilege, he finds it challenging to connect with the common people and villagers, who have a lower social status. He also struggles to bridge the gap with women in the village.To succeed in his new role, he immerses himself in the lives of the villagers, learning how they live and speak. However, his arrogance and vanity are immediately evident to the locals, and they don't take kindly to his presence. If he manages to genuinely put aside his vanity and prejudice, will he be given another chance?

Movie Review:

Andy Lau has been a really busy man, what with three movies released in quick succession of one another. Yet, as testament to his megawatt charisma, we did not experience any ounce of fatigue seeing him on the big screen for the third time in three months. Truth be told though, Lau’s character in ‘The Movie Emperor’ could not be more different from his other on-screen personas, because it is ultimately a parody of his off-screen persona.

Kudos to director Ning Hao – who is best known for the uproarious comedy ‘Crazy Stone’ – that ‘The Movie Emperor’ is a biting satire of the current state of the Mainland China moviemaking industry. Indeed, both Lau and Ning gleefully send up the respective pressures that a veteran actor and an indie director face, the former struggling to stay relevant as audience habits change and the latter being subject to commercial pressures in order to keep his or her movie together.

To be sure though, the focus is more on the former, with Lau playing an insecure veteran actor named Dany Lau Wai-chi, who in the opening scene loses his Best Actor prize at the 39th Hong Kong Film Awards to Jackie Chen (no prizes for guessing who that is reference to). Worse still, the presenter – played by no less than Wong Jing – makes fun of Dany’s loss by inviting him to receive the award on behalf of Chen, who does not even bother to show up at the ceremony.

To reinvent himself, Dany decides to take on the role of a noble but penniless pig farmer in an art-house movie, whose director is played by Ning. In a foolish attempt to get into character, Dany goes to the countryside to learn what a real-life pig farmer’s circumstances are, and as well-intentioned as that may be, it ends up backfiring terribly when Dany disrespects the gift of a butcher’s knife from the farmer, no less after borrowing the farmer’s pigs in order to make the movie’s sets more authentic.

Dany also checks into a three-star hotel in an attempt to strip away his movie star life for something more akin to the common folk, though his ego gets the better of him after an unassuming van blocks the way of his rented SUV at the hotel’s car park and sets off a series of increasingly hostile confrontations. Things with the company investors for a new electric car model that hasn’t yet been invented also go south, and ultimately spill over after the investors demand to have glorified cameos in Dany’s latest movie.

At the centre of it all is Dany of course, who bit by bit feels increasingly desperate trying to regain control of his life, including his estranged relationship with his recently divorced ex-wife (Kelly Lin) and kids. Like we said, Ning keeps the focus squarely on the titular movie star Dany, whose unravelling is first comical, then farcical, and ultimately pitiable. In doing so, Ning also gives Lau free rein over his on-screen persona, which Lau rewards with a well-calibrated performance of parody and pathos – in particular, one never feels like Lau’s character here is just a caricature, but a real, living and breathing person whose self-involvement ends up being his downfall.

As much as we enjoyed ‘The Movie Emperor’ though, we will caution you that the movie unfolds at its own deliberate pace, so those expecting the sort of rapid-fire Chinese New Year comedies or even something akin to Ning’s ‘Crazy Stone’ will probably come off disappointed. At slightly over two hours, it does run a little too long, but you hardly begrudge Lau for being the good sport he is sending himself up for this unlikely but sharply observed meta-satire.

So yes this isn’t your traditional festive comedy by any measure, but still one that is eminently enjoyable thanks to Lau and Ning’s courage to lampoon themselves, as well as poke fun at the state of the industry from their point of view. Ironically though, it does cement Lau as the movie emperor (even though he won’t be the only one) of the Hong Kong film industry, reinforcing why the 62-year-old star remains one of the best examples of Hong Kong stardom on and off the screen.

Movie Rating:

(Hardly your traditional festive comedy, this satire about the Mainland Chinese moviemaking industry is deliberately paced but well-observed, with a performance of parody and pathos by the inimitable Andy Lau)

Review by Gabriel Chong



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