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12 Golden Ducks
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by Jay Seaver

"Very hit-and-miss, but never a drag."
3 stars

I see a fair number of movies from Hong Kong - just about every one that plays local theaters or the festivals I attend - but I've still somehow managed to miss almost the entire career of Sandra Ng Kwan-yue. This means that I spent a lot of the movie wondering just who the heck she, the only person named in the opening titles, was playing in a movie about male escorts. When it turned out to be the main character, I had to admit I was impressed. I don't know how much funnier that makes the movie, but it certainly makes it more odd.

Ng plays Future Cheung, a "duck" (Cantonese slang for gigolo) who learned how to live off women from a very young age, but after being conned himself, he's let himself go to become an afterthought at a bar in Thailand. His old teacher Mr. Lo (Anthony Wong Chau-sang) finds him and brings him back to Hong Kong, where a couple of old friends - gym trainer Rocky (Louis Koo Tin-lok) and hairdresser Kenji (Eason Chan Yik-shun) - help him get presentable again. Future still has to work his way back up, and a former gigolo now selling supplements to his older clients by the name of King (Simon Yam) gets him a new spot, where he soon befriends former stockbroker Chan (Wilfred Lau), hard-hat type Dick Wide (Philip Keung Hiu-man), and eccentric "alien" Nebula (Babyjohn Choi); they also befriend King's oldest client (Lisa Lu Yan).

I don't know if I actually counted twelve ducks with parts of any import in this movie, even if you expanded the definition somewhat liberally, but that sort of precision doesn't actually matter, because this movie is less a story than a set of gags. There's a vague sort of plot about Future trying to work his way back up to the top, but it's a wispy thing, just barely there enough to suggest an order for the various jokes. Li makes the point that men provide services for women more than the opposite these days, even if you ignore prostitution - maids and waitresses looking for husbands have given way to personal trainers and hairdressers trying to get by - but I suspect that any other satire is fairly Hong Kong-specific.

The jokes are tremendously broad - a great many bulges are thrust forward, both in general and into faces - and can be just as hit and miss. Writer/director Matt Chow (who is having a pretty good Lunar New Year with both this and Triumph in the Skies in release in Hong Kong) strings them together one after another, with quick jumps from one to the next. He jumps just as quickly from cheerful raunch to much more sentimental material, but does it well enough - and with enough jokes thrown into the mix - that it doesn't feel terribly mawkish.

And he's once again working with Sandra Ng; he wrote her three Golden Chicken movies and directed the third. Ng undergoes multiple impressive physical transformations to play Future - we see him as teenager, out-of-shape loser, and fit enough to go shirtless - and never makes him absurdly masculine nor particularly feminine, even in Thailand where the joke would be obvious. She does dive into the parts of the characterization that are larger-than-life and milk them for all their worth while also giving him a generous sort of charm as well.

Everyone else is listed as a "guest star", although Wildred Lau, Philip Keung, and Babyjohn Choi are around a lot in the second half, and Keung especially is a lot of fun as a resolutely working-class guy who doesn't understand the English that the other more sophisticated characters are throwing around. The movie is also littered with Hong Kong stars, with Louis Koo a standout as Rocky, Eason Chan selling the heck out of a hairdresser whose work is far more subtle than his personality, and Anthony Wong charming in a more ingratiating way. Lisa Lu and Nichols Tse are just as good in roles that require more heart than comedy.

I must admit, I was not a particularly big fan of "12 Golden Ducks" while watching it, though it did have its moments. More than a lot of Hong Kong movies I've seen, I suspect you need to be immersed in the city and its pop culture to recognize just why certain folks make a mostly-Chinese audience laugh before the actual bit started. Heck, just going in knowing that its leading man was being played by a lady might help there, and I'm somewhat curious to see it again to see if it plays funnier knowing that.

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originally posted: 03/08/15 16:57:35
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Directed by
  Matt Chow

Written by
  Matt Chow

  Sandra Ng
  Wilfred Lau
  Philip Keung
  Babyjohn Choi
  Anthony Wong
  Louis Koo

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