Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

Despite the title and plot set behind the scenes of a Hong Kong softcore porn flick, Vulgaria has actually very little outright 'vulgarity' on screen. Instead, this comedy from director Pang Ho-Cheung keeps it saucy and kinky but also playfully satirical in its look at the hyper-banality of the modern Chinese B-grade film business. It turns out to be quite a winning angle, a balanced and fast-paced mix of gross out gags and some smart observations, helped by a game performance from lead actor Chapman To and a colourful supporting cast.

Chapman To plays frustrated local movie producer To Wai Cheung, who we first see in the film's bookend sequences set some time after the main narrative. Participating in an interview before an auditorium of film students, To discusses the bizarre obstacles he has had to overcome in his long and relatively undistinguished career (its been a long time since his glory days). World-weary and aware of his standing, To likens his role as being the "cushion of pubes" between the investors and the crew. Prompted by the students, To recounts a recent incident which forms the main part of the film - when desperation for funding for his next project led him and his executive producer partner Lui (Simon Loui Yu-yeung) to turn to the unscrupulous and utterly demented mainland gangster Brother Tyrannosaur (Ronald Cheng).

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Sporting crocodile skin jackets, having a taste for cows' genitals, and possessing an itchy trigger finger, Brother Tyrannosaur's money comes with certain conditions. 1) To and Lui must have sex with a donkey in front of him, given they made him lose face. 2) He will only fund their project if they make it a period skin flick starring his beloved veteran actress Susan Shaw Yin Yin (Susan Shaw), who retired decades ago.

Beyond having to deal with the resulting total loss of the rest of his professional dignity, To has a truck load of personal problems to deal with too. His barrister ex-wife (Kristal Tin) is aiming to secure sole custody of their young daughter given her ex-husband's equal lack of fathering skills and funding, his personal assistant is filing a harassment charge against him due to a misunderstanding, and his crew are so desperate for funding that they are turning his offices into a photography club for models and then a gambling den for compulsive housewives. In his corner, To does have his burgeoning relationship with aspiring model/actress "Popping Candy" (Dada Chan) whose skills at candy-based sexual tricks know no limits and are a source of rejuvenation for To. Somehow out of all this mess a film must emerge, or Brother Tyrannosaur will be out for revenge.

This could be a good gateway film for audiences who would not normally turn to Asian cinema for their comedy fix. It has something of the air of a Christopher Guest film about it, with its plot predicated upon the spiralling farce that reigns before the curtain goes up on a show, and never letting the sour overwhelm the sweet in its lewd satire of (and also love letter to) the machine that is modern cinema.

Reviewed on: 15 Apr 2013
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Vulgaria packshot
An acclaimed film producer down on his luck is persuaded to make a porn film for the triads.
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Director: Ho-Cheung Pang

Writer: Chiu-Wing Lam, Ho-Cheung Pang

Starring: Chapman To, Ronald Cheng, Simon Lui, Dada Chan, Suet Lam

Year: 2012

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Hong Kong


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