An exuberant musical extravaganza about the financial crisis, Johnnie To’s Office offers an energetic, occasionally brash, satire on capitalism.
Cogvilleby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
A musical in 3D, set in a Hong Kong office tower at the beginning of the financial crisis with songs sung in Cantonese, Johnnie To’s Office couldn’t be more different from the wry musings of the hit TV series of the same name. It’s filmed in a black sound studio, but neon lit to create a skyscraper by night. And it works too – able to redefine spaces, such as a downward heading lift, beyond the confines of realism. And thanks largely to strong performances from Sylvia Chang, Yun-Fat Chow, Tang Wei and Yi Zi, Office is an all-singing, all-dancing ensemble production that recalls the extravagant exuberance of Baz Luhrman. But slightly straitjacketed by its financial subject matter, Office might feel for western audiences, brash and over the top. And while it doesn’t have the emotional connection that musicals usually dial directly into, nor the slickness of a Hollywood studio production, Office is still a telling satire on consumerism, nepotism and ruthless capitalism. And beneath the tunes and colourful production values, there’s real anger. Somewhere between Dogville, Margin Call and Moulin Rouge, Johnnie To’s Office is fun and exuberant, but somehow a little too on the nose to be clever. And not quite stylish enough to carry us with it in its sweep. Falling victim perhaps to an untranslatable cultural difference, it might just be one of those films that doesn’t export. And yet as a musical portrait of the crash, Office is strangely, wildly and originally universal.
Office is now showing at the London Film Festival