As Chinese New Year rolls around, cinemas are flooded with both Singaporean and Hong Kong movie releases filling screens. With Hollywood films taking a break during the period, Chinese films have stepped in to fill the gap.
In the past three years, one of the most prominent offerings has been the All’s Well End’s Well series, a revival of a halfway-successful franchise from more than a decade ago produced by Raymond Wong.
The sixth film in the franchise opens this week at local cinemas, and once again brings the standard ensemble cast with a plot that loosely ties them together.
Though the first film is a minor classic, shoddy scripts, stereotypical characters and nonsensical humour have been the hallmarks of the franchise. The ensemble movies centre on love stories, and though the title might have a link to Shakespeare, the movies are mostly hastily put together, aimed at digging into the pockets of movie goers looking for family-oriented fare and a good laugh during the festive season.
The comedy is often the ‘mo-lei-tou’ variety, with a barrage of unconnected skits, sprinkled with spoofs of blockbusters movies, which often reference the films of the stars featured themselves. Inevitably there’s plenty of cross dressing, overcooked skits and slapstick humour to plug in the running time.
The sheer number of stars and the serviceable length means that the cast jostles for screentime, and some of the celebrities make as brief an appearance as distant relatives during a CNY visit. Blink and you might miss them.
That said, it is heartening that these ensemble comedies feature veteran actors as well as mainstream stars, and the blunderbuss humour approach does occasionally manage to work. Sandra Ng’s verbal wordplay, for example, has been one of the highlights of the last few films.
The movies also deliver pretty much what is expected of them, and since it is the Chinese New Year, families do want to start the season off with laughter and love.
Here’s a rundown of the films in the franchise and the stars that were in them.
All’s Well Ends Well (1992)
Stars: Raymond Wong, Stephen Chow, Leslie Cheung, Sandra Ng, Maggie Cheung
Director: Clifton Ko
The first film of the franchise, way back in 1992, featured Stephen Chow, Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung and Sandra Ng, and is still the best in terms of laughs and quality. Leslie embraced the role, and showed his great comedic talent as the gayish brother of the group. Comedic superstar Chow was at the height of his fame, and Maggie Cheung was shedding her wholesome looks and establishing herself as an actress after appearing in the first films of Wong Kar Wai.
Eldest brother Shang Moon (Wong) is a philandering businessman, while second brother Shang Foon (Chow) is a playboy-DJ. Shang So (Leslie Cheung) is a effeminate dance instructor. Tai Shou (Sandra Ng) comes to her senses and leaves Moon, while Holli-yuk (Maggie Cheuung) falls for Foon. Meanwhile, So and Teresa Mo are constantly at odds with each other.
All’s Well Ends Well Too ‘93
Stars: Samuel Hui, Sandra Ng, Rosamund Kwan, Leslie Cheung, Teresa Mo
Director: Clifton Ko
The second film was filmed in Singapore’s Tang Dynasty City, one of the only films ever filmed, and set during the Song Dynasty.
Never-do-well Chow (Hui) and his gambling addict sister (Ng) need to get married to partners not of their liking. However, Chow meets Snow White (Kwan), and wants to marry her, with the blessings of Sam’s mom, played by Ricky Hui. However, travelling magician David Cooper Feel (Cheung) casts a spell over the proceedings, and marries Chow to Jinx (Teresa Mo) instead.
All’s Well Ends Well ‘97
Stars: Stephen Chow, Gigi Lai, Christy Chung, Christine Ng
Director: Alfred Cheung
Though still top billing, Chow’s reputation had taken a hit after workmanlike efforts. While the 1993 movie found him at the top of his form, this outing did little to improve his reputation as an opportunistic comedian past his prime.
This sequel also paid lip service to the 1997 handover, but as one would expect, did not delve deeply into it.
The youngest brother of three, Kung (Chow) is fooled into thinking he has won a lottery by his siblings, played by Wong and Cheung. When Kung loses all the money he thought he won to the Triad, Kung fakes mental illness and finds he gets more benefits by acting insane. Needless to say, he learns a valuable lesson in life by the end of the film.
All’s Well Ends Well 2009
Stars: Raymond Wong, Sandra Ng, Louis Koo, Ronald Cheng
Director: Vincent Kok
The battered Hong Kong film industry finally found its feet again and had found that China presented an opportunity, rather than a hindrance. This time out, the film targets both Hong Kong and Chinese audiences, with half the film being in Cantonese and the other half in Chinese. It was a compromise that didn’t really please anyone.
Taking a leaf from Will Smith’s Hitch, a love guru dispenses advice to help his clients achieve love. Ronald Cheng has to find someone to marry elder sister Sandra Ng before he can get hitched, and finds a candidate in Louis Koo. This instalment is probably most famous for Louis Koo re-enacting Daniel Craig’s emergence from the sea in Casino Royale.
Alls Well Ends Well 2010
Stars: Louis Koo, Sandra Ng, Ronald Cheng, Angelababy, Raymond Wong, Lynn Xiong
Directors: Herman Yau and Raymond Wong
The fifth instalment of the series once again revisits the medieval period. Koo plays the Emperor, a childish ruler who cares only about learning kung-fu. The Queen Mother (Lee Heung-Kam) wants a grandchild, but the Emperor avoids sleeping with his randy wife (Crystal Tin) in order to retain his virginity and thus his fighting ability. Hope for a future generation rests on Princess Pearl (Angelababy), but there’s a mix-up when folks think that Nightingale (Lynn Xiong) is actually her.
Stars: Donnie Yen, Cecilia Cheung, Louis Koo, Chapman To, Carina Lau, Lynn Hung
Director: Raymond Wong
Since he’s appeared in every other movie from Hong Kong last year, Donnie Yen inevitably pops up in the latest version of the franchise.
Cecilia Cheung is in a love triangle with Louis Koo and Chapman To. Meanwhile, Donnie Yen takes up the role of a cosmetics sales clerk who is romantically linked with model Carina Lau Ka Ling’s character.
All's Well Ends Well 2011 opens in cinemas islandwide on 2 February 2011.