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Goldbuster
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by Jay Seaver

"Another fine, funny, female ghostbuster."
4 stars

Theaters that show Chinese movies in North America have been running a preview for "Goldbuster" that called it the most anticipated comedy of the year, and I can't rightly say whether that's a riff on it hitting American theaters on the first weekend of 2018, a riff on it hitting Chinese theaters the last weekend of 2017, or some sincere display of excitement at comedienne Sandra Ng Kwun-yu making her directorial debut. It doesn't much matter, I suppose; it's a funny enough movie to justify whatever amount of anticipation is actually being thrown at it.

It opens with a delivery man bringing someone at the Prestige Gardens apartment complex their dinner, kind of sure he's being pranked - though in the middle of the city, there's excavation all around it, as a local developer (Shen Teng) aims to build something much more profitable, and his son (Yue Yun-peng) has hired a pair of screw-ups (Pan Bing-long & Xu Jun-cong) to scare the last dug-in tenants out. Trouble is, widower acupuncturist Wang Baojin (Zhang Yi) is actually hoping for his late wife to haunt him and his non-verbal son "Chicken Little" (Li Yihang), and webcam girl Ping (Papi Jiang) actually sees her hits go up when something spooky happens. The four other residents - "inventors" Benjamin (Pan Bin-long) & Angelina (Jian Jun-yan) and fugitive gangsters Ming (Alex Fong Chung-sun) & Ren (Francis Ng Chun-yu) - could do without, so they hire spiritualist Golden Ling (Sandra Ng) to get to the bottom of this. Of course, it's not like 400 yuan gets you a real exorcist...

Much of this plot is spelled out by the guys doing the haunting in the first few minutes, complete with visual aids, that is a pretty good indication of how Ng's moxie doesn't have time for anything but nonsense. Five minutes in, you know everything you need, and from that point on, it's slapstick, silliness, and some tiny scares (if you scare really easily). Goldbuster may be a Mandarin-language film made in Mainland China, but it's freewheeling Hong Kong lunacy, almost always ready to go for the gag even if it pushes the limits of how ridiculous a character might seem. At under ninety minutes, it probably could have put some of the unused scenes glimpsed in the end credits in, but Ng and her team choose to keep things moving rather than slow things down with kind-of-funny.

Ng has been one of Hong Kong's most popular comic actresses for decades, and while there are moments when some of her Mandarin dialogue doesn't seem to quite match her lips here, that's barely a hitch; she throws herself into the role with tireless energy while still managing stunned deadpan comedy, playing the grifter who doesn't realize she's nearly as dumb as the marks with the sort of comic momentum that isn't always frantic but never stops. She's put together a fun cast to work with, too; Zhang Yi is actually able to make Wang's grief feel genuine even while he's delusionally weird, with Alex Fong doing the same as Ming's gangster who thinks he's a cop (and maybe also a couple with Francis Ng's Ren, with Ren's fondness for a blow-up doll being the saddest beard imaginable), and a whole host of folks diving into whatever goofy bits Ng and co-writer Ong Yi-hing have come up with.

It's delightfully anything-goes as well, slipping throwaway gags in with the hope of making an already goofy scene just a little funnier, enjoying a good sight gag as much as a bit of withering sarcasm, and occasionally making a knowing wink at the audience but - unlike many examples of this sort of madcap Chinese/HK comedy - not falling too far down a rabbit hole where being meta is the entire joke. Ng is willing and able to switch things up in a big way halfway through rather than draw one joke out until it's no longer funny, and her movie maintains enough energy to go big later on without the audience asking if that scale really makes sense.

If the film has one failing, it's that the moment of sincerity just before the grand finale goes on a bit too long for a movie that is otherwise an efficient joke machine. Silliness is what works through most of the film, and while a little bit of self-examination can work and get something like this focused enough that it can actually have an ending rather than just stop, this one tries to grab a little more than it really merits, enough that the viewer notices and maybe carries that doubt throughout what is otherwise a pretty funny last sequence.

And that the last big set-up is generally pretty funny is what the audience will likely remember: "Goldbuster" is a quick, funny movie that wastes as little time and effort as possible on things that don't make it funnier. It's 80 minutes of solid laughs and the rest is basically credits.

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originally posted: 01/07/18 11:08:17
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USA
  05-Jan-2018

UK
  N/A

Australia
  29-Dec-2017 (M)


Directed by
  Sandra Ng

Written by
  Sandra Ng
  Yi-hing Ong

Cast
  Sandra Ng
  Yi Zhang
  Teng Shen
  Alex Fong
  Francis Ng
  Papi Jiang



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