Aberdeen (Hong Kong, 2014) - Review
The following is a review written for Easternkicks.com and reposted here. Aberdeen was originally viewed at the Udine Far East Film Festival 2014
Pang Ho-Cheung delivers a beautifully cinematic adventure into the private life of a modern Hong Kong family, with secrets aplenty and traditional comedic flair proudly on display.
Hong Kong. 2014
Dir. Pang Ho-Cheung
Udine FEFF. INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE
Aberdeen is the opening film of the Udine Far East Film Festival, as Pang Ho-Cheung returns to Udine for
the 7th time with Producer Subi Liang there is an excitement in the air. Cinephiles huddle in groups and the only word in the air is Cheung’s latest, Aberdeen. 2000 seats are full in the theatre, Chapman To is somewhere below snapping with his camera and even Cheung himself is waving a GoPro around, loaned from the festival (which is a change from the instant Polaroid’s he had in 2012). After a grand introduction of all the guests and a brief introduction on stage of the film by it’s director, we enter Aberdeen.
Aberdeen is a story of the Cheng family, a disheartening exclusive into their secular lives. Louis Koo plays Tao, a preening tutor of young girls looking for future husbands, but is having troubles coping with the (he feels) ugliness of daughter Chloe (Lee Man Kwai). This causes friction between him and his model/actress wife Ceci (Gigi Leung), who is equally troubled with competition from younger girls in her industry and unknowing of the bullying that her daughter faces. Sister-in-Law Wai Ching (Miriam Yeung) faces ghosts from her past whilst oblivious to her husband (Eric Tsang) Yau having a sordid affair with his assistant (Jacky Choi). If that isn’t enough, the patriarch Dong (Ng Man Tat) is having a relationship with a nightclub hostess, causing friction with son Tao whilst longing for his lost life as a fisherman in Aberdeen.
Each family member is struggling with their own individual challenges, finding it difficult to balance their own lives and cope with the struggle. This is a far step away from Pang’s recent films such as Vulgaria (and his produced ‘SDU: Sex Duties Unit’), and whilst there is still sex and elements of vulgarity it’s a far step away from past exploits and literally tucked behind closed doors. Perhaps this is a sign? That Director Cheung is kicking out into new territory and exploring different elements of cinema, however it can always be said that the context of family is most prominent and consistent in every single one of his productions.
With a plethora of talent, you could assume it would be hard for anyone to stand out, however each character carves out their own niche and stands strong amidst the tribulation. Gigi Leung puts in a strong performance for her returning role, equally contrasted by an emotionally strong play from Louis Koo who contrasts as both a doting father and savvy businessman. As Aberdeen progresses, we learn more about the lives of the Cheng family and how much of a struggle every day is for them; the disclosure of personal vanity, bullying and adultery creating a sympathetic narrative that is hard to not emotionally connective with.
The delightfully bizarre elements of Cheung’s work haven’t lost their touch, as at one point Chloe’s pet iguana ‘Greenie’ rampages around a cardboard dreamland of Hong Kong, a nice tribute to the neighboring popular kaiju Godzilla. Equally a cameo from Chapman To, with as much focus on Star Wars childhood memories than familial ordeals such as DNA tests, brings to mind that this is a film for the director equally as it is for the fans. There are no disappointing parts in Aberdeen, with every element fine-tuned to
perfection for the essence of a whimsically serious film that we haven’t seen from Pang Ho-Cheung since directorial debut You Shoot, I Shoot. The characters are lovingly flawed whilst the cinematography is picturesque (great work from Jason Kwan), each scene lovingly crafted with the labor prominent to see, and spaced throughout are subtle lens flares reminiscent of a certain western director.
It feels that for a 2 year break since he last directed Vulgaria, the time off has been kind for Pang Ho-Cheung as is evident most in the crafting of Aberdeen. Cameo appearances from Shawn Yue and Dada Chen throw an element of mysteriosity into the film, keeping you guessing what tricks will come next. Gone are the constant laughs and ‘vulgarity’, and whilst there are still nods towards his famous style we instead get a more adult film with as much contemplation as there is humour.