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G Affairs
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by Jay Seaver

"G for, at least, Good."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: My first thought upon seeing this was "well, that's kind of g-ross", but awful g-related puns aside, there's an impressive race between outrageous events and striking style at the start of this movie that almost blunts them both, taking a while to find some sort of equilibrium. Once it does, the story kind of cruises for a while, jumping back and forth to let the environment sink in. The filmmakers never settle things down once that's happened, but that's generally enough to cover for any weaknesses in the plot.

It's initially narrated by Yu-Ting (Hana Chan Hon-Na), a student at a top Hong Kong private school who has been saddled with the unflattering nickname of "G", and who has had a rough go of it lately: Her mother (Griselda Yeung Cheuk-Na) has recently died of gastric cancer, and father "Master Lung" (Chapman To Man-Chat) is a dirty cop whose bullying behavior has gone viral online, with Lung recently appointing his mistress Li Xiaomei (Huang Lu) - a prostitute from the mainland who goes by "Mei" - as Yu-Ting's guardian. Lung has also set up shop for his secret meetings in the apartment of Yu-Tin's classmate Tai (Lam Sen), a cello-obsessed loner whose parents have separately gone abroad, which happens to be across from Xioamei's. Yu-Ting's only confidents are Markus (Luk Chun-Kwong), the physics teacher she gives blowjobs, and Don (Kyle Li Yam-San), a tech savant with Asperger's Syndrome everyone else at school assumes is gay.

And then there's the whole matter of the prostitute who is decapitated while Lung has a tryst in front of Tai.

It sometimes feels like the filmmakers came up with a fairly simple, if nasty, crime story and then worked out how they could maintain the initial thrill of the shocking murder but spent less time on how to play it out. Writer Kurt Chiang Chung-Yu and director Lee Cheuk-Pan aren't really making a thriller or a murder mystery here so much as appropriating the structure so that they can bounce around the timeline a little and keep viewers from getting fidgety or wondering what the point of all this is, and it's sometimes more than a bit transparent as Tai reflexively pushes back against telling the detectives what he must have seen and the final bits of explanation are less a culmination of what's come before than a wrap-up after they've said what they want to say.

As a result, I'm not sure that this works much more as a story than as a lot of button-pushing, although in a place like Hong Kong, there's probably a lot of value in occasionally making sure you can still do that (it is worth noting that it hit HK theaters in March of 2019). G Affairs can certainly feel like a primal scream at times, with its teen characters feeling almost nothing between abandonment and crushing authority from those supposed to help them, which certainly seems even more relevant than it has always been today, with the tragic irony being that Mei is similarly devalued and Yu-Ting is unable to find common ground. There's even precious little relief from the other people connected to the tight father-stepmother-teacher-student chain revealed by the end, making for a resolutely dark ride.

The cast members playing this out are a strong group, especially considering that this appears to be among the first major roles for those playing teenagers. Hanna Chan Hon-Na is particularly magnetic, balancing Yu-Ting's untempered rage with a streak of clarity and making the moments of good cheer and kindness that emerge feel just as much a part of her. Lam Sen similarly catches how Tai is deservedly deeply cynical about people but also desperately drawn to beauty in art and music, and how it's the only way he can handle people most of the time, while Kyle Li Yam-San does nice work in making sure that Don's abrasiveness, along with the rest of his personality, is not just down to his place on the autism spectrum. Of the adults, Chapman To does nice against-type work as Lung, making him feel dangerous and out of control but also capturing just how crazy it is that this loser is allowed to run wild, while Huang Lu grounds Mei's disreputability without really giving her an exaggerated hidden nobility. Luk Chung-Kwong captures the exact sense of a man who seems respectable when you're looking up at him but small otherwise.

And if the story is light and secondary, Lee's presentation of it is slick and entertaining enough to make the darkness go down easy without seeming to revel in suffering or treating it as trivial. He and his team don't linger or rush, and take full advantage of what a solid sense of place Hong Kong gives: It's always crowded to the point where empty space often seems like a deliberate demonstration of power and resources, and when Lee wants to present an open space as something else, he uses tilt-shift photography or something similar to make the city or the less-developed area around it look like toys that could be fit in someone's cozy personal space. The various English-language G-words (and a Cantonese homophone) that serve as chapter headers have an almost occult air by the end, even as Yu-Ting starts to mature past allowing them to have any power over her. That balance between words and other tools of communication having seemingly mystical power but also serving as things people can shrug off lets Lee execute an impressively metaphoric final shot.

It's the sort of finale that won't seem like it fits to some and will probably solidify whether a viewer thinks the film is very clever or just has that sort of ambition along with a tendency to be more nasty than strictly necessary. It's good enough to suck a viewer in, at least, and both its first-time director and young cast bear watching.

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originally posted: 06/11/20 11:40:34
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Cheuk-Pan Lee

Written by
  Chung-Yu Chiang

  Hanna Chan
  Lu Huang
  Sen Lam
  Kyle Li
  Alan Luk
  Chapman To

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