It's quite rare to see Hong Kong do a coming of age drama, it's even rarer to see a Cat III film in this genre. Lazy Hazy Crazy [Tung Baan Tung Hok] finds itself somewhere in between the work of Heiward Mak and Ho-Cheung Pang, which isn't that surprising knowing that Yee-sum Luk is one of the few female directors working in Hong Kong while also serving as the screenwriter for a couple of Pang's latest films. Pang returned the favor and acts as a producer for Luk's first feature film. The result is quite interesting, to say the least.
While rare, Lazy Hazy Crazy is not quite unique. One year earlier Philip Yung directed May We Chat, a film that would make an awesome double bill with Luk's first. It explores very similar themes, although a little less graphically and from a different genre perspective. But putting them back to back, the differences quickly disappear and the similarities, especially taking into account both are Hong Kong films, will start to shine through. Hopefully Netflix will notice, because they already picked up May We Chat.
What makes Lazy Hazy Crazy stand out is the way it resembles a typical coming of age drama (think Heiward Mak's High Noon or Chi Y Lee's Beautiful Crazy). Going by the intro, this looks like a very innocent, sweet and sugar-coated view into the lives of Hong Kong teens, but the reality is pretty different. Luk's film is quite frank and open, not shunning away from tougher and more taboo subjects. So much in fact that it will probably raise a couple of eyebrows.
The story revolves around two friends (Tracy and Chloe) who befriend a third girl (Alice) at school. Alice is living by herself, abandoned by her father and mourning her deceised mom. To pay for food and shelter she goes on paid dates, usually with older men. Chloe is drawn to the life Alice is leading, while Tracy feels like she is being left out and substituted as a best friend. When Alice ends up dating the boy that Tracy has had her eye on for years, the friendship of the three is ripped to shreds.
Visually the film is on par with the more traditional coming of age dramas from greater China (which is a pretty high standard). Colors are crisp and summery, the camera work is breezy and dreamy (with a camera that constantly circles the film's main cast) and the editing is soft and lazy. It creates a very mellow, laid-back atmosphere, which makes for an interesting contrast with the onscreen drama. Above all though, it's just really beautiful to look at.
The soundtrack, again, is one of the weaker aspects of this film. There is some beautiful music here and it does strenghten the laid-back atmosphere of Lazy Hazy Crazy, but at the same time it's all so predictable. It's just a little bit too comfortable to be considered good, which is something of a returning problem for Hong Kong (and by extension Chinese and Taiwanese) films. I wish they tried something different for a change, on the other hand why bother as long as it is effective.
Nudity is still considered doubty in Hong Kong cinema and it can gravely taint the reputation of an actress (regardless of current stature), so it's remarkable that Luk found a cast that was willing to push the boundaries when needed. The main cast consists of mostly newcomers, which seeps through during the more dramatic moments, but overall the acting is on par and there's real chemistry between the three friends, which elevates the dramatic impact considerably. Secondary parts are good too, which a notable appearance by Susan Yam-Yam Shaw.
Much like Marielle Heller's The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Lazy Hazy Crazy finds a comfortable tone to talk about taboo subjects. It's not a coincidence both these films were directed by women, as they tend to have a more natural approach towards female sexuality. Having women behind the camera also helps to make the film's topics easier to discuss, without having to diverge into "creepy male director" debates. With a man in the director's chair a film like Hazy Lazy Crazy could've been quickly dismissed as a creepy male fantasy, with a woman there it can simply be an empowered coming of age drama.
For once, availability isn't a big issue either. People interested in Hong Kong youth culture and phenomena like the paid dating business should have no trouble finding this film with the proper subtitles. Luk shows she has talent as a director and delivers a powerful, confrontational yet endearing drama. Hopefully her talent is recognized and she isn't shot down for the unconventional choices she made here, because Hong Kong can use a director like her.