All U Need Is Love (總是有愛在隔離, Vincent Kok Tak-chiu, 2021)

All things considered, there are worse places to quarantine than a five star hotel especially if it’s free but then again forced proximity with those you love, or those you don’t, can prove emotionally difficult. An old school ensemble comedy, Vincent Kok’s All U Need Is Love (總是有愛在隔離) features a host of A-list stars each providing their talent for free in order to support the struggling Hong Kong film industry in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic but as its name suggests eventually offers a small ray of hope that the enforced period of reflection may have fostered a spirit of mutual solidarity and personal growth. 

Kok opens, however, with a tense chase sequence as a shifty looking man runs from the authorities at the airport only to be picked up by the PPE-clad Epidemic Task Force who whisk him away to a secret location where he’s placed inside a weird bubble and interrogated by Louis Koo. Several more top HK stars including Gordon Lam fetch up in the bubble each implicating the Grande Hotel as the centre of of a coronavirus cluster at which point an order is given to place it under total lockdown requiring everyone inside to remain for a 14-day quarantine. 

Essentially a series of intersecting skits, Kok’s ramshackle drama nevertheless has its moments of satire as the hotel chief takes to the stairs for an inspirational speech in which he frequently slips into English and bizarrely likens himself to the captain of the Titanic because we all know how well that went. He spends the rest of the picture trying to escape without anyone noticing while his dejected security guard/brother tries to bump him off. Meanwhile, two gangsters develop a homoerotic bromance while plotting how best to profiteer off the pandemic through smuggling anti-COVID paraphernalia just as panic buying takes hold on the outside. 

Nevertheless, it can’t be denied that All U Need Is Love is also guilty of some rather old fashioned, sexist humour particularly in the antics of a pair of old men (Tony Leung Ka-Fai and Eric Tsang reprising their roles from Men Suddenly in Black) and their minions who misled their wives in order to embark on a sexual odyssey only to have their plans both improved and then ruined by the quarantine order. Meanwhile, a young couple who were in the hotel preparing for their wedding banquet ironically scheduled for the last day of the quarantine find themselves at loggerheads as the man gets cold feet over his fiancée’s bridezilla micromanaging, and her father undergoes a total makeover while continuously watching Japanese pornography in his room. 

Watching it all, a little girl, Cici, becomes the moral voice of the pandemic innocently hoping that nature will continue to heal itself even after the sickness ends. It’s she who shows the gangsters the error of their ways in pointing out that if they steal all the anti-COVID equipment then they will end up being more at risk because no one else is protected, while she also softens the heart of the hotel’s cynical manager to the point that he too makes a lengthy speech about becoming a better person thanks to his experiences during in the pandemic. 

During their enforced proximity friends and strangers have indeed needed to rediscover their love for their fellow man as they band together in mutual solidarity waiting for their freedom. Culminating in an oddly uplifting wedding decked out with balloons and messages from friends and family played via iPad, Kok’s anarchic ensemble farce does its best to discover a silver lining among the fear and anxiety of the pandemic as it ironically brings people together through driving them apart. Along with his A-list cast, Kok throws in a series of movie parodies and pop culture references from an impromptu rendition of Baby Shark to a surprise appearance from the Landlady from Kung Fu Hustle as well as a suitably random cameo from Jackie Chan. Repurposing the traditional Lunar New Year movie, All U Need is Love is a classic nonsense comedy designed to lighten the mood in these trying times while celebrating the essence of Hong Kong cinema through, arguably, its most idiosyncratic of genres. 


All U Need Is Love streamed as part of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.

Original trailer (Traditional Chinese/English subtitles)

Breakout Brothers (逃獄兄弟, Mak Ho-Pong, 2020)

“I’m treating this as a vacation” says affable triad Chan (Louis Cheung Kai-Chung) of his three month prison term, after all it’s rent free and three meals a day who could say no to that in the difficult economic environment of pre-handover Hong Kong? Nevertheless, it’s hardly a vacation if you can’t cut it short and Chan, along with two buddies, will eventually find reasons to want to leave. Mak Ho-pong’s genial prison break comedy Breakout Brothers (逃獄兄弟) takes occasional subversive potshots against an increasingly corrupt social order but eventually discovers that you can’t escape social responsibility while the real reward is indeed the friends you make along the way. 

That is at least the conclusion that newbie prisoner Mak (Adam Pak Tin-Nam) comes to after being pulled into an escape plan formulated by petty gangster Chan who decides to make a break for it after learning that his dear mother has been taken ill and needs a kidney transplant which only he can give her. Thinking of his prison time as a vacation from the pressures of everyday life, Chan has been a low maintenance prisoner and therefore assumed the warden would agree to a temporary release to let him help his mum, but Warden Tang (Kenny Wong Tak-Ban) who has already served a “life sentence” of 30 years in post has recently been promised a promotion and doesn’t want anything to mess it up like a prisoner turning fugitive while on hospital leave. Spotting a workman disappearing from a storeroom and emerging Mario-style from a manhole on the other side of the fence Chan gets an idea and enlists Mak, an architect inside after being framed for taking bribes, to help him figure out the logistics, and Big Roller (Patrick Tam Yiu-Man), leader of the prison’s second biggest gang, for access and protection. 

The guys’ predicaments are perhaps embodiments of the age, Chan wanting out for reasons of filial piety while for Big Roller it’s in a sense the reverse in learning the daughter he was told had died is in fact alive and about to be married. Mak meanwhile wants out because he’s a sitting duck inside, the shady construction CEO who framed him for singing off on lax safety procedures which led to a fire in a prominent building having enlisted the services of rival gangster Scar (Justin Cheung Kin-Seng) to intimidate him into dropping his appeal. Hints of institutional corruption extend to the colonial prison system with guards quite clearly intimidated by prisoners and often turning a blind eye to cellblock violence while it’s also implied that Warden Tang has in a sense facilitated the rise of Scar at the expense of Big Roller as a means of maintaining order. He, like the colonial authorities, will soon be on his way but anticipating his own freedom is keen there be no trouble which is why he refuses Chan’s compassionate leave and extends little sympathy to new boy Mak. 

In any case, the real draw is the bumbling crime caper of the guys planning a heist-style escape which is, in the history of prison escapes, not an especially elaborate one. The prison is not exactly max security, and as they plan to escape during the celebrations for the Mid-August festival none of them are anticipating much difficulty in making it to the outside though as expected not quite everything goes to plan. Mak, meanwhile, eventually takes Big Roller’s advice and decides to stay inside to clear his name properly while the gang ensure his safety rather than try to live as a guilty fugitive and possibly be caught only to end up with more time. The other two have more pressing temporary goals and have not perhaps considered what to do after they’ve completed them, believing only that their lives are untenable if they cannot fulfil their duties as father and son respectively. 

Perhaps for this reason, the Mainland-friendly conclusion has each of the men recommitting themselves to paying their debts to society, Chan even insisting that he’s going to use his time wisely to improve his education in order to be a better husband and son while Big Roller promises to become a carpenter for real. Mak gets a partial vindication in that the shady CEO is finally forced to face justice while also realising that his slightly elitist, individualist stance has been mistaken thanks to the warm and genuine relationships he’s discovered inside. More comedy crime caper than tense prison break thriller, Breakout Brothers remains true to its name in prioritising the unconventional friendship that develops between the trio as they bond in a shared sense of existential rather than literal imprisonment. 


Breakout Brothers screened as part of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.

Original trailer (English / Traditional Chinese subtitles)

Zero to Hero (媽媽的神奇小子 , Jimmy Wan Chi-Man, 2021)

“No one treats you like an ordinary person, so become an extraordinary one” the heroic mother at the centre of Wan Chi-Man’s Zero to Hero (媽媽的神奇小子) tells her young son as he struggles to find a place for himself as a disabled person in an unaccommodating society. Inspired by the real life story of multi-medal winning Paralympian So Wa Wai (Leung Chung-hang), Wan’s inspirational tale is as much about maternal determination as it is about overcoming preconceived limits but also makes a series of subtle points about how the contemporary society treats disability. 

Wan opens in Guangzhou in 1981 as Wai’s mother Mrs. So (Sandra Ng) frantically rushes him to hospital only to be told that he has jaundice which has resulted in cerebral palsy meaning that he will likely never be able to walk or feed himself. The doctor double checks if the family would like to proceed with treatment given this information to which they emphatically reply they would. A few years later, the family has migrated to Hong Kong and Mrs. So is forced to take Wai with her to her job in a laundry, eventually finding herself at her wits end after his hearing aid goes missing placing her son on the shoot and shouting at him to walk only to shut the belt down just before he reaches the edge. At this point, Wai manages to pull himself onto his feet, proving the doctors wrong and teaching himself to walk unassisted. Witnessing an older Wai run away from neighbourhood bullies gives Mrs. So an idea and she soon tries to enrol him in a club for athletes with physical disabilities only to be turned away because of his age but his decision to join in anyway gets him noticed by former Paralympian relay runner Coach Fong (Louis Cheung Kai-chung) who decides to take him on and train him up. 

In contrast to other sporting biopics, Wai’s path to Olympic success is more or less drama free even as he strives to improve his athletic abilities and overcome the mild resentment among some of his teammates in needing to change their style and position in order to accommodate him. Wan does however hint at the difficulties of living as a disabled person in late 20th century Hong Kong, Fong explaining to Mrs So that the Paralympics aren’t aired on Hong Kong TV and disabled athletes earn only 10% of that earned by the able-bodied. Wai does receive a small subsidy, but the Sos are otherwise forced to scrimp and save so that Wai can continue running, a situation that becomes impossible after his father is injured in an accident and left unable to work. 

It’s also clear that Mrs. So’s all encompassing love for her son causes occasional tension in the family in leaving her younger, able-bodied son understandably feeling neglected while everyone fixates on Wai’s sporting success. Wai’s brother is perfectly aware that he was born in part as a safety net for Wai so that someone would be around to look after him once the Sos have passed away and cannot at times help resenting him. Yet the family unit remains generally united until the older Wai’s prideful resentment of what he sees as his mother’s micro-managing begins to undermine their relationship. “I just want to run” Wai explains, fed up with the series of commercial opportunities his mother has agreed to on his behalf in an attempt to keep him financially secure in the future. When a director for an advert tells him he’s speaking “too well” and asks him to sound more disabled Wai has had enough, leading to a confrontation that ends both in romantic heartbreak and a falling out between mother and son. 

“Catching up is the story of my life” Wai reminds Fong, emphasising the film’s inspirational message that sometimes people have further to go but get there in the end while also signalling the various ways lack of accommodation for his disabilities has continued to hold him back outside of his sporting success. A heartwarming tale of an incredible mother-son bond, Zero to Hero insists that the mutual determination to succeed turned them both into heroes allowing Wai to achieve his full potential as a Paralympian bringing gold and glory back home in defiance of those who told him he’d never be anything. 


Zero to Hero screens Aug. 21 as part of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.

Original trailer (Traditional Chinese / English subtitles)