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Office - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Hua li shang ban zu

Hong Kong 2015

Comedy, Drama

Johnnie To

Wang Ziyi
Lang Yueting
Eason Chan
Tang Wei
Sylvia Chang
Chow Yun-Fat
Eddie Cheung
Tin Sum
Stephanie Che

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Office - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Lee Xiang (Wang Ziyi) starts his new job at the trading company Jones and Sunn and wants to leave a good impression right away. However, there is also new employee Kat (Lang Yueting) who proves to be as competent as he is, even though in other areas than him. CEO Winnie Chang (Sylvia Chang) is soon impressed by Lee Xiang and his ideas, but she tries to avoid Kat as much as possible since she knows her secret. Kat is in fact the daughter of the company's boss Ho (Chow Yun-Fat) with whom Chang also has an affair. Meanwhile, ambitious David (Eason Chan) tries to remain on good terms with Chang as her most important subordinate and at the same time arouse the interest of hard-working Sophie (Tang Wei). David is extremly straightforward and thus also risks a lot when it comes to stock trading. Unfortunately, it is the year 2008 and the Lehman Brothers go bankrupt. This couldn't happen during a more inopportune time since Jones and Sunn are about to IPO. Furthermore, they have to save a partner company facing ruin by coming up with ideas for a new range of products. Just the opportunity Lee Xiang was looking for to prove his worth for the company.

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Office - Film Screenshot 4

Review: You can always count on directors like Johnnie To, even during the movie crisis that is nowadays all too present in Hong Kong. And this even though this time To doesn't deliver a stylish triad thriller. Actually, To proves to have the courage to experiment and brings a dramedy musical to screen that wants to be understood as obvious criticism on financial markets and capitalist society of Hong Kong. But can this really work out? A humorous drama with musical pieces caricaturing your typical day at the office while also providing food for thought? Yes, it does work out, because next to the outstanding acting achievements it's particularly To's terrific directing that gets the most out of the fantastic, gigantic set. The music, although not feeling like a foreign body, stands as a bonus at best, but at least adds to a feeling of joyfullness most of the time.

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The movie is based on Sylvia Chang's successful stage play "Design for Living" and has been rewritten by her a bit for the big screen. Still, it's not only the music pieces which make the film's roots apparent, but especially the sets. Or rather one single gigantic set, that may represent office rooms at most times, but also gets converted into a café, an apartment or the streets if it is required. Because of this the movie still has something of a stage play to it, but at the same time you oftentimes also forget that it's just one set featured here. Only very rarely does To cheat a bit, e.g. during a driving scene for which he uses a green screen. Nonetheless, production design is at all times breathtaking. The many black and white colors, the vertical beams everywhere and the noble look in general, which somewhat reminds you of a luxury department store - or a billion dollar company, of course -, are enchanting all throughout.

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However, the director doesn't really enter new territory here since he already examined the financial world in his movie "Life Without Principle" very skillfully, passing criticism on Hong Kong society in a smug manner. A society that has its eyes set merely on the financial markets. As a movie "Office" may not be better than the aforementioned flick, but it is more keen on experimenting and thus turns out to be more memorable. A big problem, though, is the social criticism implemented, which isn't even nearly hidden under a layer of story. The featured criticism is so forthright that it's probably because of this that we constantly get some singing. What can't be spoken out loud because it's too trite should be sung, as they say. There are no real catchy tunes her and some pieces even need getting used to, but they still fit the film's style perfectly.

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Storywise, there isn't much to say. The circumstances leading to the financial crisis and the personal ones are drawn out most prominently. A handful of individuals control money, but in the end it seems that everyone is controlled by money instead. Looking at office workers waiting in front of the elevator they all seem uniform and like robots. Or rather: like cogs in a giant clockwork that ticks very accurately. There isn't a giant clock to be seen as part of the set for nothing - it also could have been taken right out of a steampunk movie - and a constant audible rhythm of a knocking or hammering etc. in the background, even if there is no music involved, underlines the impression of a giant clockwork. If one of the cogs shouldn't work anymore it simply gets replaced. And it's this replacing the movie is about, too. Accordingly, the characters and the personal drama caused by this lurking possibility of getting replaced stand in the foreground. After all, the depicted individuals aren't as impersonal as you might think.

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Chow Yun-Fat ("The Last Tycoon") can be seen in a rather lengthy cameo appearance and bestows some interesting ambiguity on his character. Next to him it's especially Tang Wei ("Wu Xia", "Late Autumn") who impresses, even the more since her role isn't actually fleshed out by the script. Sylvia Chang ("All About Ah Long") herself, who also adapted the screenplay, can be seen in a subtly executed performance and Eason Chan ("Dream Home") plays the involuntary villain. Wang Ziyi ("The Constable") serves us as a pivot while Lang Yueting remains somewhat cold. In the end, it's the actors that manage to carry the movie, next to the great set and director To. With its running time of 120 minutes "Office" is a bit too long for its own good and towards the end the film loses momentum, even though the drama becomes more profound. Still, the featured social criticism is conveyed a bit too obviously. "Office" nonetheless turns out to be a successful movie experiment by To, which is amusing as well as serious at the same time and stands as an interesting take on the everyday life and power struggle in a big company.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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