The seedy-sounding premise of Pang Ho-cheung’s Vulgaria (2012) may put-off some viewers with a sensitive disposition, but this Hong Kong sex comedy errs more on the side of fun than filth. Following the story of To (actor-director Chapman To), a struggling film producer forced to make a pornographic picture to make ends meets, Vulgaria delivers more than one would expect from a low budget, category III effort. The fast-moving plot switches rapidly between To’s lectures to a group of student filmmakers and the subject of his talk; the production of his smash hit porn film, ‘Confessions of a Concubine’.
Vulgaria has faced some criticism for its strong sexual content and offensive language. Yet, Ho-cheung’s script does in fact offer much, much more than a simple exercise in excess; razor-sharp, witty and well observed, what we get is a well-struck balance of gross-out comedy moments with an insightful critique of the Hong Kong film industry. Ho-cheung manages to blend outlandish comedy set pieces with a sense of social realism, creating a film full of innuendo and outright ‘smut’, but with something to say about the attitudes and prejudices of Hong Kong society.
Ho-cheung is aided in this task by a stand-out performance from veteran leading man, To. His producer character is deeply flawed and morally bankrupt, an absent father to his young son and porno-peddler extraordinaire. To strikes a balance between the fatherly nature of his character with his desperate attempts become a great film producer. Although the juxtaposition of caring father figure and porn filmmaker is an odd one, To somehow manages to turn our protagonist into a well-rounded character whose ultimate redemption never comes across as crass or overly sentimental. The legendary porn star Popping Candy (Dada Chan) also offers a similar character trajectory to To, her earnest and naive openness to sex particularly refreshing.
Despite the obvious budgetary limitations, Ho-cheung’s Vulgaria offers more genuine laugh-out-loud moments than anything the likes of Hollywood’s Todd Phillips et al. have managed in recent years. Ho-cheung is one of Hong Kong cinema’s brightest lights, a filmmaker that can bring something refreshing and imaginative to the most staid and tired of genre films. Vulgaria represents the perfect introduction to his impressive body of work. If that’s not enough to tempt you, then surely the donkey will.
Hannah Albone (CUEAFS)