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Lifetime Treasure, A
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by Jay Seaver

"Just watch "Gallants" again."
2 stars

There's probably a listicle or three out there counting down the best "a bunch of movie stars have gotten old" films, hopefully not to grim in terms of how many great actors passed away soon after doing a movie that cracked wise about how they used to be sex symbols and are now the butt of jokes about peeing every ten minutes. Unless they're exhaustive, "A Lifetime Treasure" will probably not show up on many of those lists, and not just because it's relatively recent or because many overlook films not made in Hollywood; it's just not very good and a few of the folks involved have done it much better.

It takes place around the Oh Hoi Nursing Home, the only elder-care facility on one of Hong Kong's smaller islands, technically run by superintendent Yuen Luk Cheung (Andrew Lam Man-Chung) although he's addled enough that nurse Ching-Ching (Ivana Wong Yuen-Chi) is effectively in charge of the five elders there: "Uncle Dragon" (Bruce Leung Siu-Lung), a mute tinkerer who claims to have once been a secret agent; Richard Leung (Richard Ng Yiu-Hon), a former swimmer living on borrowed time; Jane (Tien Niu), who like to tell people she was once a nightclub diva; Ben Chow Tai-Bun (Teddy Robin Kwan), a diminutive former pickpocket; and "Uncle Crab" (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo), a wheelchair-bound ex-detective still obsessed with an unsolved case from 30 years ago. Elsewhere, Rainy Cloud Hung (Lam Suet), who dominates the Hong Kong nursing home business, is looking to purchase the site, and dispatches flunkies Chun (Louis Cheung Kai-Chung) and Lok (Bob Lam Shing-Pun) to sabotage the place.

They don't get very far with that - Lok is too smitten with Ching-Ching despite her eyes for hunky handyman Fai (Terry Zou Wen-Zheng) to keep his eye on the prize, and their attempts at disruption make for forgettable episodes. The most elaborate involves bringing the elders to the set of a zombie movie to work as extras in hopes of out-of-context photos causing a scandal only for them to (briefly) become celebrity heroes and is mostly enlivened by Siu Yam-Yam (aka Susan "Yum-Yum" Shaw) cameoing as a thoroughly disinterested film director, which is at once the most predictable thing in the movie - Siu has, by now, made nearly as much of a career out of playing the feisty granny as she did playing the sexpot in the 1970s and 1980s that informs those parts - and the funniest. Like many of the other episodic bits that make up this film's first half hour, it seems to start from nothing and lead to nothing, with many of the jokes nearly incomprehensible to my western head. This is, to be fair, not necessarily the fault of the filmmakers; between Cantonese being a language that allows for a lot of wordplay in both spoken and written forms and Hong Kong being compact enough that there's a really good chance that everyone in the audience gets a pop-culture reference that is completely opaque to an American 12 time zones away (on the other hand, characters getting teased for uniforms that look to be straight out of <I>Star Trek: The Next Generation</I> may not play once you get 50 miles into the Chinese mainland). One can see evidence of such jokes, even as they fly way the heck over a western viewer's head.

It's probably not great that a lot of that running around doesn't wind up really mattering, as Rainy Cloud eventually just bursts in, forces the Chief to press his finger to a contract, and walks off, forcing the orderlies and elders to break into the headquarters Mission: Impossible-style, straight down to the harness in the elevator shaft. It's a pretty straightforward parody, but having these veteran performers play their characters as folks with something to do rather than just wandering in a fog lets them be funnier and easier to connect with. Richard Ng, especially, turns out to be a real treat, and Ivana Wong does a nice job as Ching-Ching, it's kind of hard for me to imagine an American film letting her character be weird and abrasive rather than sweet but she pulls it off.

Those noting Sammo Hung's name in the cast should maybe temper their expectations a little; the action-movie legend's Uncle Crab is in a wheelchair and doesn't get out of it for very long. There's still a bit of action or two toward the end that impresses a bit (and some physical comedy that uses the same sort of skills), but it's mostly in the hands of Bruce Leung Siu-Lung and Teddy Robin, and they're a couple of fairly capable hands, giving the film the chance to end on fast-paced, exciting note.

The thing is, Leung and Robbin and even Siu have done this before, almost ten years earlier, in a film called "Gallants", which is pretty terrific and close enough to the general idea of this movie that the filmmakers got a shout-out in the credits. As much as it's great to see old favorites getting work into their later years, there's no reason to watch this one when "Gallants" is not that much more difficult to find.

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originally posted: 04/22/20 00:17:10
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