Johnnie swaps cops, gangsters and shootouts for office workers and catchy musical numbers in his new film Office.
Billion-dollar company Jones & Sunn is going public. Chairman Ho Chung-ping (Chow Yun-fat) has promised CEO Winnie Cheung (Sylvia Chang), who has been his mistress for more than twenty years, to become a major shareholder of the company. Lee Seung (Wang Ziyi), a new hire at Jones & Sunn, brings with him youthful ideals and dreams. On Lee Seung’s first day he is paired with another new start, under qualified Kat (Lang Yueting) who has her own secret agenda. As the IPO team enters the company to audit its accounts, a series of inside stories start to be revealed.
Johnnie To making a financial based musical is such a crazy idea on the surface to the western fans. Most western fans know of To for his action and bloodshed films. But, he has actually directed a bunch of comedy and drama films, so it isn't that much of a stretch for new territory.
The financial world setting works well and comes across as fun and even exciting in parts. Set before and after the 2008 financial crisis, there is enough meat to chew on.
The music is extremely upbeat and easy going even if you don't understand the native language, the feeling isn't lost through the subtitles although some of the lyrics might not translate as poetically to English. Some real catchy songs are included and also a superbly shot dance which left me in awe.
Office does have it's problems, one being the length. At just under 2 hours, it almost feels like you are putting a shift in at your work office and time is going by slow while you are willing it to end. This is about the 3rd quarter mark though, and the film does pick up again thankfully.
Another issue is the main character's stories. Lee Seung and Kat have the easiest going sections, full of humour and both likable characters, their story plods along at a reasonable pace. Chow Yun-fat doesn't star in this film, it's a "special appearance". And, although his character Ho Chung-ping is conflicted, you still find yourself rallying behind him, and as usual it's another great performance.
Saving the best for the last, the set design is simply incredible. I don't think a film about an office environment could actually look any better. Based on Sylvia Chang’s stage play Design for Living. The film has embraced it's theatre roots. Filmed entirely on a set, the office changes to a rooftop, a convince store, a nightclub, apartments and much more. The sets are made up of long lights, mainly blacks and whites, long vertical lines, and a giant clock. It's almost simple bare bone sets but with a neon steampunk twist. And it is exquisite. Production designer William Chang has created stunning sets which almost takes the world they create to style over substance as you can't peel your eyes off these stunning visuals.
Office is still a fun harmless film and if you enjoy musicals you will get plenty of enjoyment out of it. However, it just isn't up to the standard that Johnnie To has been delivering to us for so long.