TIFF40: OFFICE Review

Posted on Sep 22 2015 - 6:36am by Jonathan Encarnacion

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Director: Johnnie To Kei-Fung

Starring: Wang Ziyi, Lang Cheung, Eason Chen, Sylvia Chang, Tang Wei, Chow Yun-Fat

Rating: 14A

Running Time: 117 minutes

Johnnie To’s entry into TIFF40 is a corporate drama set against the backdrop of the Lehman Brother’s bankruptcy in 2008. Hearing this summary, one could assume that OFFICE would enter the humorous lines and moody interpersonal examinations and that To is known for. And that would be correct, with one new element: OFFICE is also a musical.

Le Xiang (Wang Ziyi) and Kat (Lang Yeung) are new hires at Jones & Sunn. The company prepares to go public as the two hope to pass their probationary period. In that time, they learn the depth at which corporate politics and office relationships can mingle, even at the highest levels.

OFFICE is based on DESIGN FOR LIVING, a 2008 play by Sylvia Chang. Adapting it is an interesting choice for To Kai Fung; the director is known for delving into various genres, and OFFICE is his first try at helming the musical variety.

And it’s well-suited for his sensibilities. The main plot of Kat and Le is surrounded by threads exploring scandal, infidelity, and burnout in a corporate environment. The ensemble is an HK-star studded cast, including pop star Eason Chen, acclaimed actresses Sylvia Chang (who, yes, also created & starred in the original play) and Tang Wei, and Chow Yun-Fat – easily recognizable among international audiences – as the CEO playing the game above them all. Their threads give the narrative a multi-faceted look at Jones & Gunn as a whole, showing career-driven mindsets that – despite some cultural differences to the Western viewer – can be all too familiar.

The sets, with all their formal greys, is accented with the creative touch of being ‘incomplete’ – the walls of Jones & Sunn are minimalized only to their framework, mirroring the lack of protection they provide for secrets in an office environment. The massive clock at the center of the office spins slowly, looking over everyone as its gears tick away ‘the grind’.

The musical sequences are smart, with occasional choreography that doesn’t take away from the seriousness – or humor – of the scene. The only downside for non-Cantonese/Mandarin viewers is having to glance at the subtitles while the sequences play out.

Overall, the drama of OFFICE is engaging, and another enjoyable entry into To Kai Fung’s filmography. With a compliment that includes HK classics such as THE MISSION, RUNNING ON KARMA, and ELECTION, for To fans OFFICE has all the markings of being included in the same breath.

4_stars

OFFICE is currently playing in Mainland China; its international premiere was at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, with a forthcoming Hong Kong release on September 24th.

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