Six Strong Guys

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 01/21/05 16:40:32

"It's so good I don't even mind using the word 'dramedy.'"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Anyone who still somehow doubts that foreign language films cannot translate well for an English-speaking audience would do well to check out “Six Strong Guys,” a Hong Kong import that deftly blends comedy and drama into the story of pre-mid-life crisis that most guys just passing the thirty mark will find recognizable.

I say “pre-mid-life crisis,” because I have yet to figure out the proper term for that itching that hits once one turns thirty - “third-life crisis,” perhaps? Anyway, maybe it’s because I’m at a similar spot in life right now that has me hooked on this film. But even if you aren’t, you’ll still find yourself easily drawn in to the world of these characters.

The film opens with four friends choosing to chuck it all and leap as one off the top of a skyscraper. Fate intervenes, suicide is postponed, and it’s back to the very lives that drove these fellas to the breaking point in the first place. Which sounds quite grim, until you factor in the movie’s ripping sense of humor. (The postponement, for example, is caused by the unexpectedly funny arrival of a new character.) So what follows is the multi-layered tale of these four pals - plus two supporting players who manage to round the number up to six - who are in fact not strong at all, their egos and/or confusion with life forcing them all onto the brink of breakdown.

The guys: Ben (Hacken Lee) is a hairdresser who doesn’t realize he has the perfect girlfriend (Candy Lo), looking instead for a way to escape impending marriage. Chai (Chapman To) is unemployed, while his wife (Huang Yi) is climbing the corporate ladder; feelings of failure lead him to revisit an old flame (Karena Lam). Malcolm (Andy Hui), the group’s resident playboy, has been receiving phone calls from an anonymous former lover who claims he’s now a dad; stress from this leads to impotence - and then to a rundown of all of his past flings. Long (Ekin Cheng) is the ordinary working stiff who yearns to punch out his boss (George Lam), not realizing that the boss has family problems all his own.

(The sixth guy, Shaun, played by Shaun Tam, is so irrelevant to the plot that he’s only here for secondary support. Still, this only becomes bothersome if you spend days contemplating the film’s title. Ignore it, and you’ll do just fine.)

It’s familiar material to be sure, but everything clicks in all the right places that such familiarity never works against the story. There’s a wonderful knack for comedy at work here - both in writing and performance, with everyone on both sides of the camera snapping everything into well-timed place - that works to snag the viewer, to get us liking these characters who could’ve been played far less likably, considering their self-absorbed attitudes. But no, it’s all in good fun, and we come to love these men and their lighthearted adventures. Which, of course, is all a set-up for the second half of the film, in which the comedy thins out and the drama kicks in. By now we’re fully sold on their stories, making us feel the victories and losses all the more. It’s hard to pick a favorite storyline, they’re all so captivating.

The film, as charming as it is, is not without its flaws; there’s one storyline that fails to wrap itself up properly (it almost feels like a scene or two is missing), and there are without question some heavy bricks of cheese stacked on at the end, both in a recurring theme song (some silliness about “turning tragedy into comedy”) and one ill-conceived shot that’s head-shakingly cornball. But these are the only complaints about an otherwise wonderful little film.

“Six Strong Guys” is a movie that rides entirely on spirit and warmth, and it works. These are characters you want to embrace, moments that will make you beam. It takes a special movie to make its characters feel like old friends, and this is one of those special movies.

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