(China/Hong Kong 2015)
Johnnie To has made a ton of movies—more than 80 in 35 years. Known mainly for gangster/crime action films, Office [华丽上班族], his adaptation of Sylvia Chang’s 2008 play Design for Living, is atypical To; his only other film even remotely similar is the ultra cool Sparrow, which introduced me to him.
Set at the flashy headquarters of fictional Hong Kong trading company Jones & Sunn on the verge of its poorly timed IPO that just so happens to coincide with the Wall Street financial crisis of 2008, Office is a visually stunning musical soap opera depicting the sordid lives and interactions of those who make up the firm, from brown-nosing go-getter intern Lee Xiang (Wang Ziyi) to chairman Ho Chung-ping (Chow Yun Fat) and MILFy CEO Cheung Wai (Chang). Some subplots and characters are more interesting than others—the storyline with Suen Keung (Cheung Siu-fai) and his embezzlement scheme stands out—but overall Office is fun and engaging, and you really do want to see what happens next. I haven’t seen anything quite like it.
The sets are amazing: big, bright spaces with lots of clean lines and curves, minimalist and modern and moving like a well-oiled piece of machinery—imagine an updated Mad Men amped up on steroids, and you’ve got the idea. It’s arty. An enormous clock straight out of Metropolis serves as a clever nod to what To might be getting at here. If there’s a moral to this story, it might be ‘capitalism has casualties’ or ‘to thine own self be true,’ as To examines things like class, hierarchy, ambition, upward mobility, work, ethics, and honor. I doubt it goes that deep, though. Office is hardly a complicated story and the songs are nothing special, but they don’t need to be: this film churns out enough energy to keep it going for its two-hour running time.
(Gene Siskel Film Center) B+