Genre: Modern Romance
Length: 100 minutes
Producer: Patrick Kong
Release Date: November 12, 2015
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Julian Cheung as Man Cho aka “Cho Gor Gor”
Charmaine Sheh as Chuk Kwan-Ho
Nancy Sit as Chu Sa-Kiu aka “Kiu Yee”
Joe Chen as Kei Kei
Michael Tong as Man Kam-Sing
and Irene Wong, Joyce Cheng, Kent Cheng, Jacqueline Ch’ng, Cheronna Ng, Lee Yee Man, Elena Kong, Helen Ma, Steven Ma, Kwok Fung, Edmond So, Calvin Choy, Remus Choy, etc.
Fifteen years after it’s original TV series in 2000, Chilam Cheung, Charmaine Sheh, and Nancy Sit reunite to film the movie version of Return of the Cuckoo. Although it’s clearly another attempt to capitalize on the success of the original (Why suddenly do it 15 years later?), which Hong Kong movie sequel isn’t? Chilam and Charmaine’s initial reluctance and concern of not wanting to ruin the original, that the sequel won’t live up to par, and that there is a lack of material to film a sequel are all valid. They both gave in after reading the touching script. Or not.
Patrick Kong’s romantic films always have the tendency to evoke pain on it’s leading characters and this movie doesn’t get to escape his usual style either. If you think this movie sequel is meant to give Chilam and Charmaine a stab at their happy ending, you are far from right. From beginning to end, Cuckoo’s characters are always suffering from one incident to another. That’s okay. That’s how we grow. After every trauma is another kind of maturity. Let’s begin with Charmaine returning to Hong Kong to celebrate her mother’s birthday, but for everyone to learn that she has ran away from the hospital in the U.S. after her husband and twins’ passed away in a car accident. The supposedly fairy-tale ending that the TV series originally gave her all shattered away after one incident.
And let’s not get me going about her hotel room suicide attempt. To maximize the effect, she even performed the act in a red dress. You can’t even tell if it’s her dress that’s losing color in the water or her blood that was simmering in liquid. Even after the doctors saved her, the character continues to drown in self-destructive acts that you will never see the innocent and tomboy TV character ever do. Smoking, gambling, and drinking, you name it. And the always-by-her-side “Cho Gor Gor” not only has to be present to witness her consume all that, but becomes her personal ATM machine when she loses every last dollar at the Macau casinos. Charmaine dumbfounded says, “I lost all the money.” Chilam replies, “There’s still more.” I know Macau is the Vegas in Asia, but still. Yet it was a pleasant and unexpected surprise to see the Grasshopper band (Edmond So, Calvin and Remus Choy) appear as themselves at the Macau casino. Chilam’s sudden burst of excitement and fanboy moment was priceless!
That moment of happiness doesn’t last long and this is followed by a break up of Chilam and Joe’s characters. Stemmed from jealousy of Chilam’s care for Charmaine more than her, Joe almost left Charmaine to die in a mudslide incident during a rainstorm. In this scenario, I’m not sure who it is to blame (the writers or Chilam) as I was skeptical of the way Chilam handled Joe. In the beginning narrative, Chilam makes it feel like Joe was the one and with her being a born mute, this even brought their bond closer than ever. But nope, once Charmaine re-appears, Chilam takes two steps back in this relationship. Joe has every right to feel led on, but you can really see the similarities in Chilam’s unrequited love for Charmaine and Joe’s unrequited love for Chilam.
This chain of unrequited love is once again represented when Joe bakes these cookies as per Chilam’s request, but she is discovered to be allergic to the baking powder. In the TV series, Chilam will cook Charmaine’s favorite curry dish for her despite his allergy to curry powder. Even Chilam acknowledged this and told Joe she doesn’t have to do it if she’s allergic. He clearly understands how it feels to not have love returned and Joe is sacrificing for him what he will sacrifice for Charmaine. So why doesn’t he choose Joe over Charmaine? Does he feel that there is a second chance for him and Charmaine now that Steven has passed away?
You would think that after Joe’s final scene and their break up, Chilam will have his happy ending with Charmaine. The final pain-inducing subplot threatened for Chilam to lose his sense of hearing if he didn’t undergo surgery. As Elena, who was Chilam’s doctor, explained it, most patients who undergo surgery will either lose 30% of their memory or even worse, lose their entire memory. How is that even an option? Chilam decides to go for the surgery and promises Charmaine that everything will be fine. He wakes up and tells Charmaine, “Kwan-Ho, I’m okay. Don’t worry.” Charmaine, elated that her “Chor Gor Gor” still remembers her, runs outside to get him some food and smiles into the pier. In the final scene, we see Chilam repeatedly say, “Kwan-Ho, I’m okay. Don’t worry.” Only when he opens up a small piece of paper will we learn that he’s merely reciting from a piece of paper and this suggests to the audience that he has lost his memory post-surgery, but doesn’t want Charmaine to be upset and sad. This once again creates an open ending, which is probably setting itself up for another sequel? LOL.
In a way, the movie has just as much sadness as the TV series induced, but not enough for a tear-jerker (like the original) if that was the producer’s end goal.
The Characters and Performances
It’s a good thing that the movie version was quite loyal to the original TV series and when they said they will continue where they left off, they really meant it. And this means they didn’t try to erase Steven’s character or the fact that Charmaine had children. Even though it’s too convenient for the script, Steven and the children’s death seemed like the most plausible way for a sequel to take place. One thing I didn’t like, however, is that Charmaine speculated Steven for cheating on her. I mean, is that a phase in life that every married woman goes through once the relationship becomes more stale? The cheating part wasn’t aligned with Steven’s personality from the TV series at all.
Equally well, is that the script didn’t introduce many new characters (because films are short and can’t accommodate too many) and Joe Chen was arguably, a good addition. In many ways, her character is similar to that of Chilam’s: mute, but that ain’t enough to stop me from being perky and living life to the fullest. It’s refreshing and makes me happy to see that Chilam finally had a real and healthy relationship, but that was put on pause, and eventually ruined forever, once Charmaine was back. On the other hand, Joyce Cheng appearing somewhere in the middle of the movie was unnecessary.
We get to see most of the original characters from the TV series, which I have to say I’m impressed since some of them are no longer under TVB management like Michael Tong or has retired from the acting business like Irene Wong. Michael has become a prominent figure in the Macau gambling scene and is the “big brother” to many. Thought temporarily betrayed by his people, he regains his position quickly with the help of an old and raggedly, but influential man played by Kent Cheng. New faces that we see are Jacqueline Ch’ng who plays Michael’s lover and assistant, possibly, who later betrays him. Jacqueline looks really classy despite being part of the gangster tribe. Kiki Sheung, Kent Cheng, and Cheronna Ng also get a few scenes as someone we’ll forget once we turn off the TV.
The 15-year gap is definitely noticeable and all of our favorite stars have grown older, matured, both in their personal life and in their acting. And for that reason, it barely seems like a sequel because the personalities are barely in tact. To me, Nancy and Michael’s characters seemed very similar to their previous roles, especially Nancy’s happy and worried expressions which stayed the same. The supporting cast didn’t seem to change much with the exception of Irene who has gained more weight on her face.
As the main characters, Charmaine and Chilam’s character has undergone the most change, not only in their roles, but perhaps in their real lives. Charmaine’s acting has matured so much that she is no longer the “green” actress she was over a decade ago and this is displayed in her character growth and almost sadistic self in the first half of the movie. Even Chilam who was a mute back then is smarter at getting girls and I can’t help but notice that the alertness in his eyes makes him smarter. There was one scene where he was talking to Joe in the bakery that seemed like he was the reincarnation of the flirtatious Captain Cool.
The success of the TV series has a lot to do with the youthfulness of the characters and the puppy love that people undergo around that age. Of course, people age and lose that sense of love overtime. The movie doesn’t depict that stage of the relationship anymore (and it probably shouldn’t if it was meant to be realistic) despite it’s attempt to bring back memories of Chilam rocking Charmaine to sleep and their secret whistle language. The evolution may be a good thing since the fans of the TV series has since grown up as well.
Despite an even sadder love story, I still recommend the movie. It still has the endearing moments that made up the success of the original and shows that Chilam will always stand by Charmaine’s side through thick and thin — and she’s the only one he’ll do that for. However, being that they are at different stages in their life now, everything isn’t as carefree.
A film production also allowed for more high-budget and daring scenes like Chilam and Charmaine flying off of the highest bungee jump in the world at the Macau Tower at 233 meters. Although the stunt was performed by a replacement actor, a traumatic experience was all it took to overcome another traumatic nightmare (the grieving of a loved one).
Macau’s scenery is well-depicted and much better than what was offered in the TV series. Also, 15-years ago, high-definition TV wasn’t an option. 😉
Good enough to watch, but beware that Patrick Kong wasn’t the producer of the original series. That makes me skeptical of his credibility to film the sequel.
The Released Trailer