There is a limit to how far you can take a one-joke movie. "Men Suddenly In Black" goes beyond that limit.
The one joke is this: take a sex farce about husbands on the make for some quick adulterous action, and play it out like a snazzy action thriller. It's cute at first, obnoxious not too long after that, and all too tiresome before we even get to the halfway point. Director/co-writer Edmond Pang Ho-Cheung, who previously made "You Shoot, I Shoot" (and who also wrote the novel on which the cult favorite "Fulltime Killer" was based), finds his film slowly draining of the very energy that's supposed to drive it, as it becomes increasingly clear that muddled comedy and a rambling storyline is all we're going to get.
Jokingly referred to as a true story, "Men" tells the tale of four men whose wives are heading out of town for the day, leaving them fourteen hours to get laid. They've been planning this for years, saving up enough cash, working out how to best cover their trails, even contacting old flames in the hopes of landing some free nookie instead of having to resort to hookers. Ah, but their plans constantly backfire - a brothel is raided by the police, etc. - and soon their wives, who did not, it turns out, leave town, are hot on their trail. Can they nab some hot sex before they're busted?
It's tricky business, making a movie about such despicable characters (both the men and women are quite nasty). You can try to make these people fascinating in their villainy, so we want to watch despite our hatred of them. Barring that, you can turn your story into a morality play of sorts, allowing the audience to revel in these people's downfall. And barring that, you can play up the farce angle, exaggerating the whole mess to absurd proportions.
That's where Pang heads. Sort of. The cast is pretty solid - Eric Tsang, Chapman To, Jordan Chan, and Spirit Blue star as the husbands; Teresa Mo, Candy Lo, Masha Yuen, and Tiffany Lee star as the angry wives - but they're all put to waste, stuck performing broad, iffy comedy that never goes as full on into the world of sex farce that it needs to. In fact, there's no sex at all here, turning what could have been a manic bedroom comedy into something lesser. Pang is far more interested in the comedy of his visual style, working overtime to recreate the snap of a briskly edited action flick, leaving his cast far behind him. He's so hung up on this idea that he can't figure out when enough is enough; one sequence, that finds the husbands engaging in a fight with press photographers, is designed to parody the slo-mo shoot-out world of John Woo, with flashbulbs replacing handguns. It's worth a grin or two, but Pang, so sure of himself, lets the scene go on for what seems to be an eternity. He exhausts the comedy, then he runs over it to make sure it's not breathing.
Almost every scene runs on minutes longer than they should, with the premises ceasing to be amusing. One bit, with Tsang bumbling in a negotiation attempt with a prostitute, becomes irritatingly redundant; how many times can he yell at her, apologize, grovel, yell again, lather, rinse, repeat?
What "Men" needs is to back away from the spoofy yuks that overpopulate it and look instead to the subtlety of a more low-key character comedy. We do get some quieter personal moments, but these never quite work, feeling added in out of obligation, to keep the characters from becoming too impersonal. These attempts at human drama are so poorly conceived - one husband's meeting with an old flame should have more heart and less fat-chicks-are-ugly cruelty; another husband's desires to return to his wife lacks the heartfelt impact it thinks it has - that one wishes Pang would've just avoided such attempts altogether.
"Men" is funny in spurts, a line here, a bit there. Tony Leung's extended cameo as the husband who was caught long ago and now spends his days locked away is pretty funny, with Pang's script finally hitting some right notes (and Leung hamming it up wonderfully), although this, too, gets overbaked and loses steam due to clunky repetition.
For the most part, however, the film's a big dud, loud and cocky but all too empty. It's a jumble of comedy that never quite takes off, no matter how much vigor the fine cast pumps into the project.
The two-disc special edition DVD set reviewed here is a Hong Kong release from Mei Ah Entertainment that has been encoded for All Region play. There is also a single disc Region 1 version that has been released in the U.S. by Tai Seng; this is not that disc.
The two discs are housed in a clear single-size keep case, which fits into a cardboard sleeve.
The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) presentation can best be described as a decent transfer; it's not very crisp or clean, but it's free of any digital problems.
Dolby 5.1 surround is used for both the original Cantonese soundtrack and a Mandarin dub. Both tracks are quite nice, playing into the whole action-movie joke without ignoring the dialogue. Removable subtitles are offered in English, Traditional Chinese, and Simplified Chinese.
Disc one features a commentary from Pang, with optional English and Chinese subtitles. There are some long gaps in the conversation, but when he's talking, it's of interest, especially when the discussion leads to the politics of the movie. (Pang admits he is not making a point for or against adultery, but merely telling a silly story.)
Also on Disc One are trailers for "The Romancing Star," "The Romancing Star 2," and "Running On Karma." All three trailers are presented in both Cantonese and Mandarin; burned-in subtitles (in both Chinese and English) are included on the "Karma" trailer.
Disc Two opens with a Director's Statement from Pang. It's a two page chunk of text in which he discusses his intents for the film. (Both Chinese and English translations are presented.)
A thirty-minute making-of features the usual assortment of on-set interviews with cast and crew, although it does manage to go a bit more in-depth than you'd expect from a mere half-hour.
Deleted scenes and outtakes are of minor interest (no subtitles are available, so following along may be an issue). The deleted scenes offer very little, while the outtakes consist mainly of flubbed lines.
Storyboard comparisons of several scenes don't go into the detail such a feature usually provides - we only get a minute or two of each of the featured scenes, not enough to be of much value.
A music video (it does not tell the song's title in English) is better than usual, combining clips from the movie with footage of the studio recording session.
The film's trailer and TV spot, a photo gallery, and a "data bank" detailing character histories round out the disc.
If you're a fan of the movie, then this release is certain to please. But for anyone else, there's just not much to the movie to make this worth catching. Rent It for a few nice ideas and a fun appearance from Leung, but that's about it.