Hong Kong/China, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 108 mins.
Director: Chen Musheng 陈木胜 [Benny Chan].
Wannabe family/kiddie comedy centred on a CG feline alien is a thoroughly embarrassing fiasco.
Shi’ao [Shek O], Hong Kong island, the present day. After being chosen by the leader of Planet Meow, on the edge of the Milky Way, to contact advance forces already in place for an invasion of Earth, Meow’s top warrior Ximilu 西米露, aka Pudding, lands outside the home of retired celebrity footballer Wu Shoulong (Gu Tianle) who is now a novelty-goods salesman with a bit-part actress wife, Zhou Lizhu (Ma Li), a teenage son, Wu Youcai (Huang Xingyuan), who wants to be a film director, and a younger daughter, Wu Youyou (Liu Chutian), who has a leg brace. While landing, Pudding loses the Secret Weapon which can save him from disintegration, so to avoid dying he takes over the body of a cat that a football-club owner (Ruan Zhaoxiang) has asked Wu Shoulong to look after while he’s away. In the process, the cat morphs into a human-sized one but is accepted by the family, which calls him Xixili 犀犀利. He assembles all the “advance force” of local cats to help find the Secret Weapon but they’re all too comfortable being looked after by humans, and have no interest in any invasion. To rescue his warrior pride, Xixili first tries killing his family – unsuccessfully – and then gradually becomes a part of it, especially after he saves the family one night from burglars. However, the family’s situation soon changes dramatically. Wu Shoulong has to honour a debt of HK$2 millon that he acted as guarantor for a friend (Lu Haipeng); Xixili accidentally becomes a media star; Zhou Lizhu bumps into Liu Yidi, a once-geeky classmate who is now chairman of Alimama; and Wu Shoulong is conned out of HK$3 million in exchange for a treasure mat.
Hong Kong’s formula-action king Chen Musheng 陈木胜 [Benny Chan] takes a break from his usual beat to make feline-friendly family frolic Meow 喵星人, which is as cringingly embarrassing as his last film, retro-ey period drama Call of Heroes 危城 (2016), was refreshingly good. In a career stretching back to the early 1990s, Chen has always been an unreliable quantity, making as many iffy productions (Heroic Duo 双雄, 2003; City under Siege 全城戒备, 2010) as entertaining ones (Big Bullet 卫锋队 怒火街头, 1996; Connected 保持通话, 2008; Shaolin 新少林寺, 2011; The White Storm 扫毒, 2013). But Meow hits a new low, not only squandering the talent of one of the Mainland’s finest comedy actresses, Ma Li 马丽 (Goodbye Mr. Loser 夏洛特烦恼, 2015; Heart for Heaven 一念天堂, 2015; Once Upon a Time in the Northeast 东北往事 破马长飞, 2016), but also managing to make even Hong Kong’s busiest star, Gu Tianle 古天乐 [Louis Koo], look ridiculous. As the idea for a cat movie reportedly came from Gu, and his company One Cool invested in it, he must take some of the blame for the fiasco, which flopped in the Mainland with a weedy RMB48 million.
Most of the budget went on the CGI for the human-sized feline who descends on a family from Planet Meow to prepare an invasion of Earth but ends up helping it through various financial crises involving conmen. They shouldn’t have bothered: though the CGI is very good, the same effect could have been achieved by a man in a Fortune Cat suit, as there’s very little real fantasy or visual spectacle in the episodic, computer-generated script by commercial-comedy writers He Miaoqi 何妙祺 and Pan Junlin 潘俊霖. Jokes are laboriously set up, situations are utterly predictable, emotional buttons are cynically pushed. There’s also the distracting sight of Gu in a geeky wig and the distracting sound (in the Cantonese version) of Ma revoiced by someone with a voice like Wu Junru 吴君如 [Sandra Ng, thanked in the closing credits] in a role that the Hong Kong comedienne could have played standing on her head.
On the plus side, veteran Hong Kong d.p. Feng Yuanwen 冯远文 [Edmond Fung] serves up a warm, chocolate-boxy look, especially for the family’s home in peaceful and slightly funky Shi’ao [Shek O] on the south side of Hong Kong island. Local comedy writer-director Chen Qingjia 陈庆嘉 [Chan Hing-kai], on whose features He has regularly worked, is credited with script advice.
Presented by Gravity Pictures Film Production (CN), One Cool CMC (HK), Emperor Film Production (HK), iQiyi Motion Pictures (CN), PJ One Cool Film (HK), Zhejiang Pomelo Film (CN), One Cool Film Production (HK). Produced by BC Films Production (HK), One Cool Film Production (HK).
Script: He Miaoqi, Pan Junlin. Script advice: Chen Qingjia [Chan Hing-kai]. Photography: Feng Yuanwen [Edmond Fung]. Editing: Qiu Zhiwei [Yau Chi-wai]. Music: Wang Jianwei. Art direction: Wang Huiyin. Costume design: Chen Jiayi. Sound: He Zhitang, Zeng Jingxiang [Kinson Tsang], Li Yaoqiang. Visual effects: Liang Weijie (Fat Face Production, Different Digital Design, 4th Creative Party).
Cast: Gu Tianle [Louis Koo] (Wu Shoulong), Ma Li (Zhou Lizhu/Pearl), Liu Chutian (Wu Youyou), Huang Xingyuan (Wu Youcai), Wei Shiya (Li, PE teacher), Lu Mixue [Michelle Lo] (Baobei/Baby), Ruan Zhaoxiang (Lin, football-club owner), Su Zhiwei (Gao Baoluo/Paul/High Priest, conman), Cai Yijie, Cai Yizhi (conmen), Lu Haipeng (David), Ai Lun (Liu Yidi/Drippy), Lin Zicong (tubby debt collector), Feng Mianheng (thin debt collector), Wang Chengsi, He Zijun, Yang Shimin, Wu Jialong, Li Shangsheng, Xu Zhixiong, Yin Hang, Cui Jiale.
Release: Hong Kong, 20 Jul 2017; China, 14 Jul 2017.