Lazy Hazy Crazy

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 09/26/16 13:43:17

"As is so often the case, coming of age at high speed."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2016 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Jody Luk Yee-sum has co-written some bawdy comedies in Hong Kong, so it's not surprising that one of the most memorable bits in "Lazy Hazy Crazy" is the one that comes off as a crude joke. It's not exactly representative, though, as the film as a whole turns out to be one of those coming-of-age films that seems kind of alarming to an older/male/foreign audience member like myself, even if the characters do seem more or less able to deal with what's thrown at them with fairly good humor.

It follows three teenage classmates, each neglected or unsupervised to a certain extent: Tall, confident Chloe (Koyi Mak Chi-yee) not so obviously, perhaps, especially in comparison to Alice (Fish Liew), whose parents have divorced and decamped for Bangkok and Ngai, leaving her working as a "hostess" at a karaoke bar and doing enough "compensated dating" that she's known around school by a fairly vulgar nickname. She may still be higher on the social totem pole than Tracy (Ashina Kwok Yik-sam), a bespectacled Filipina whom everyone expects will become a maid like her strict grandmother and most other immigrants from the Philippines. They're the sort of trio that has just enough in common to get lumped together, but that doesn't mean their friendship is easy or natural.

It is, in fact, often highlighted by cruelty; Chloe especially can be the sort that builds herself up by pushing those around her down at times, whether by reminding Tracy of her low position in the pecking order or treating the escort work Alice does to survive as something of a fun adventure. There are times when the operative message seems to be that kids need friends, so they must initially take what they can get even if it means that those friends actually thinking well of one another has to come later.

And yet, it's because much of the film's drama is generated by the friction between these friends as opposed to by them uniting against a common challenge that their friendship becomes fascinating. Not all of it - each has issues at home, school, and elsewhere that don't necessarily involve the others at all - but those parts of the story serve to emphasize just how important their interconnectedness is. They wind up sharing a dog that at various times represents all sorts of ways they can be connected (someone to pick up the slack when plans fall through, wedge when someone is perceived as not pulling her weight, crisis which pulls everyone together), but Luk is clever enough to not just rely on one device or another while also not presenting the girls' lives as impossibly overwhelming. We get that these girls form a network, and while they sometimes pull against each other, the fact that there are several of them makes the group resilient.

The film is sometimes a little eyebrow-raising, especially for American audiences - teenagers as unsupervised as Alice requirean explanation of some sort here, but often seem treated as not quite ideal but not uncommon in Asian media. It allows Luk to be sexually frank without being especially exploitative; rather than assuming all three are still children where that's concerned, it opens up room for each to be more or less prepared or confident without necessarily linking that to overall maturity and experience. There's also a bit more nudity than one might expect, although Luk does well to deeply it as indicating intimacy between the characters rather than titillating, despite how the posters may play it. The film is also occasionally funny - as mentioned up top, there's one raunchy sequence that is just hilarious - but also built to create interesting moments and earn any sentimental ones.

The young cast is strong as well. Fish Liew and Ashina Kwok are given characters in Alice and Tracy that come from the same template (children of immigrants held in low social regard by their classmates), but are good at highlighting how the girls handle that positioning differently, each representing a different mix of insecurity and defiance, never having to say that they are sensitive to the other's opinion but still demonstrating the tension that comes from the situation. Koyi Mak is often tasked as acting as the others' glue or go-between, and having her do it by having Chloe be brash rather than quiet is an interesting choice on Luk's part; Mak often seems to dominate a scene even though it's what the other actresses are doing that becomes memorable. The three of them are sometimes a little unpolished, but genuine, and carry the film despite relatively few more seasoned actors to work against. This makes it interesting when Gregory Wong Chung-yiu enters the scene as a karaoke customer who becomes one of Tracy's regulars; his quiet polish serves to downplay how dangerous this sort of patronage can be and highlight how practiced adults can be compared to the more emotional teenagers.

It's not as harsh a coming-of-age story as one might necessarily think from descriptions involving compensated dating and parental abandonment, although it certainly doesn't sugar-coat those elements. It's an impressive debut for Jody Luk as well, making her as one to watch in Hong Kong's idiosyncratic film industry, especially if she stays there and continues making things that might be too risky for the Mainland's censorship board.

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