This year’s New York Asian Film Festival begins this Friday, June 29, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and brings the pan-Asian genre goodtimes, classics, and special guests through July 12. (From the 12th through the 15th they’ll also copresent the opening weekend of Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts.) Our first review, of several to follow, is of the opening-night film, Vulgaria, a Hong Kong film directed by Pan Ho-cheung, which screens Friday night.
After holding in his gut for his last couple of romantic comedies, Pan finally exhales sharply with Vulgaria. Vulgaria‘s loose slew of jokes about Pop Rocks blow jobs, Al Qaeda product placement and bestiality have more in common with his 2003 husbands-behaving-badly comedy Men Suddenly in Black than they do with any of his more recent dramedies. Both Love in a Puff (2010) and its sequel, Love in the Buff (2012), are accomplished, appreciably intelligent films about the necessity of self-mythologizing.
By contrast, Vulgaria is an unstructured comedy about a film producer.
This is what you get when you ask Pan to riff on State and Main: a show business satire that’s not especially biting because it’s too obtuse to be truly scathing, but so charmingly crass that it’s consistently funny anyway. Chapman To plays a scruple-free movie producer who tells a class of film students that his job is just like being a filmmaker’s pubic hair, and recounts a shaggy-dog story about screwing a donkey, getting blown by a candy-guzzling pop star and being rightfully accused of sexual harassment—all so he can make a decades-late sequel to a softcore porn film that sounds a lot like the Shaw Brothers’ scandalously sapphic Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan. Vulgaria is not much more thoughtful than that, but it is appreciably zany and full of plenty of good jokes made in deliberately bad taste.