Five graduates from different years come together to celebrate their secondary school teacher Master Jude’s 80 year-old birthday. Since all of the five men have marital problems, this is a good time for them to meet and share their grievances. During the celebration party held in a hotel, they encounter five pretty, sexy young models. The five men group together to form 'The Cheating Brigade' to continue their affairs with the five models.
Puerile and misogynistic concepts need not be out of place in a good comedy. If handled with a mocking degree of self-awareness or as tool to dissect masculinity, such traits have helped filmmakers as diverse as John Hughes, Federico Fellini and Neil LaBute find their comedic footing. So there’s no issue with veteran Wong Jing wallowing in it so unashamedly with his new film, Men Suddenly in Love.
His 35 year career has been defined by the most lowbrow endeavours, with titles like How to Pick Up Girls, Profiles of Pleasure and Sex & Zen. Admittedly, most have been huge hits despite consistently feeling the sting of Asian film critics. (His work rarely travels to Western cinemas.)
The issue, therefore, is that Men Suddenly in Love is so resolutely, even excruciatingly, unfunny. Lacking wit, panache, structure and the barest of true-to-life characterisations, Wong’s boorish clash-of-the-sexes farce offers endless shots of cleavage but little else.
The film tells of five friends who at different times in their schooling years ago all received sex education from a frank and friendly school teacher. The five men throw the now-80 year-old teacher a party, but things go bad when a cake-girl excites him beyond the limits of his aged heart. In his final moments, the dirty old academic makes the men promise to have sex with the five young ladies at the party and honour him by calling out his name at the point of orgasm.
And so the film becomes five vignettes about fat, old men (bar one 30-something ring-in, who may or may not be gay) trying to bed young Hong Kong hotties. Wong fleetingly deals with such bothersome moral issues as the men’s infidelity to their wives, though such concerns are dealt with by reducing the women to a shrieking hags or clueless imbeciles. Debate over the rights and wrongs of such an arrangement have no place in a film like this as intellectualising would only get in the way of the Viagra jokes, the randy old-lady quips and the 'How-do-I-explain-these-scratches?" jokes.
One set-up featuring a philanderer covered in ants (his lady friend eats chocolate as they cuddle after lovemaking) provides a few giggles, but begs further explanation. (E.g. How did he got home without sensing the insects all over his body?) Such is the nature of Wong’s comedy – anything goes in service of the gag.
Performances are wound up to similarly unreal and amplified levels. Eric Tsang, Chapman To and the Wong himself all have moments, but the actresses (Chrissie Chow, Monica Chan, Maggie Cheung, Jessica Tsui and the stunning Yeung Si Man) are asked to perform some truly degrading scenes in the name of the film’s premise. A rape fantasy sequence is particularly offensive to actor and viewer alike.
If there is one engaging aspect of Men Suddenly in Love, it’s that it occasionally references popular film culture. In a short, bizarre sequence that exists for no discernible reason, two of the stars dress as Shrek and Princess Fiona and dance around the bustling city streets; one story strand is done in the style of a J-horror ghost story. Such odd diversions are mystifying and vaguely interesting, though they definitely do not justify any other aspect of the film’s cheesy, shallow facade.