I'm not sure where I first encountered the trailer for the Hong Kong comedy "Bug Me Not!," but I remember thinking that it looked both very cute and very dopey. Turns out I was right. "Bug Me Not!" is adorable as can be, but it doesn't make a lick of sense and runs entirely on material that doesn't quite look like it was written as much as it was just slapped together in a hurry.
In fact, piecing together the plot reveals just how much of a mess we have on our hands. Moon (Isabella Leong) is a bouncy teen who can talk to bugs; she befriends an equally bouncy cartoon ladybug named Coochie (voiced by Jan Lam). He helps her woo Hyland (Wilson Chen), a nervous boy who works across the street selling assorted useless gadgets (a chopstick fan, for example, will help cool your noodles) and whose fear of being touched by anyone has given him lightning-fast reflexes. It turns out they both have "Ultra Power," which they learn about in separate visits to Psychic Park, where an eclectic group of teens hang out under the tutelage of Auntie (Gillian Chung), a mystery woman who looks 20 but claims to be 70.
At Psychic Park we meet: twin girls who read each others' minds; a boy who can see your future when he touches you; another boy with x-ray vision; etc. Some of these powers come with consequences - X-Ray Boy has an enormous nose hair that grows longer the more he uses his special vision, while another boy gets more pimples on his face the higher he jumps. These gross-out side effects gags are embarrassing to the movie, and to the moviemakers, and to us, the viewers.
Anyway, Hyland is talked into entering a TV contest involving pushing people out of a ring (the use of touch will force him to face his fear, you see), and then for a while Moon's bug friends are captured by somebody who doesn't have much to do with anything, and after that the bugs and trees declare war on humanity by refusing to help out in nature, and there's some singing, and then…
Oh, my head's starting to hurt a little.
"Bug Me Not!" works quite well on a scene-by-scene basis, with enough charm and silliness holding us through the dopier spots (which include two mediocre song-and-dance routines), but as a whole, it collapses. It's impossible to tell where the story is going, or, more importantly, where it was supposed to go. The script, by Cheung Chi-Kwong, Yeung Sin-Ling, and Tony H. Chow, settles on providing us merely a series of things that happen, never mind if they fit with what happens before or after. (There's an entire subplot about Moon being colorblind yet able to see random colors in nature, but it's so often ignored that I had forgotten all about it by the time it pops back up late in the film.)
Taken in bits, however, there's a lot to like. Leong is adorable in the typical leading role of the kooky, cutesy girl, while Lam's hyper approach to his voice work earns a few grins. (There's something fun about seeing Coochie refer to a roach motel as "a house of death," adding "you go to hell!" before slapping Hyland across the face) The CG animation, which delivers all the bugs on display, is colorful and lively, with a Roger Rabbit-esque cartoon-live action blend that's plenty enjoyable.
Also to be enjoyed: a lengthy no-touch tango between Hyland and Auntie; a curiously odd subplot involving the Japanese host of the TV show; a romantic moment under an umbrella between Hyland and Moon. These are all lovely moments, yet it's obvious from the scattershot presentation of the movie that these scenes were thought up separately and tossed into the film just so they could be there.
The oddest thing of all is that "Bug Me Not!" is directed by Law Chi-Leung, who previously helmed such dark thrillers as "Double Tap," "Koma," and the excellent ghost yarn "Inner Senses." What is such a guy doing here, directing a bubbly teen comedy with singing cartoon bugs? I'm guessing he's just as confused as we are. Law does his best with the material, getting individual scenes to sparkle, but when it comes time to connecting the dots, it's a hopeless mess.
Tai Seng's Stateside release of "Bug Me Not!" features a sleek anamorphic (1.85:1) transfer that brings the animation and ridiculous characters to vibrant life.
The original Cantonese soundtrack is offered here in both DTS 5.1 Surround and Dolby 5.1 Surround; both tracks are fine, although they rarely make use of the surround feature. (When they do, it's pretty sharp.) A less impressive but workable Mandarin dub is also provided, in Dolby 5.1. Optional subtitles are available in English, traditional Chinese, and simplified Chinese.
"The Making of Big Me Not!" is a six-minute fluff piece that delivers all the not-so-in-depth information one would expect from an EPK toss-off. Meanwhile, something simply titled "Behind the Scenes" is the usual batch of random on-set video footage, interesting for a single spin. Both offer optional English subtitles.
A music video for Leong's pop song "Too Cute" is nice, although it's nothing but clips from the film. Lyrics are provided in both burned-in Chinese subtitles and removable English titles for those who want to sing along. Following the video are the movie's two musical numbers; I don't know if these are supposed to be part of the video or are simply tacked on for those who can't find them in the film itself. All three songs put together run six and a half minutes.
The film's teaser, trailer, and two TV spots are also included. Of them all, the teaser's the best, as it plays up Law's previous films for a surprise finish. (Although I would imagine most Hong Kong moviegoers were probably left scratching their heads at the sight of singing cartoon bugs and no accompanying explanation.)
The disc starts up with trailers for "House of Fury," "Initial D," "Chiseen," and "Wind and Cloud: The Storm Riders," plus Tai Seng's usual add-on of an old Dolby Digital trailer. All are skippable thanks to the fast forward and disc menu buttons.
Note: With the exception of "Behind the Scenes" (which is in anamorphic widescreen), all of these extras are presented full screen, with footage from the movie presented in a flat letterbox format.
"Bug Me Not!" is endlessly adorable yet impossible to comprehend. Kids might enjoy the zippy cartoon characters, although they'll be turned off by the more mature aspects of teen love. (Nothing dirty, but one character is repeatedly called "pervert," and X-Ray Boy likes to look for underwear.) Fans of Asian cinema, meanwhile, might find some random cuteness here, but will ultimately be put off by the nonsensical non-story. Rent It.