Jeff Lau’s Just Another Margin is one of those films that are seemingly tailored for Lunar New Year entertainment but don’t quite have the star power or marketing push required to compete in that prized calendar slot, and are thus slipped in a bit before or after on the release schedule. And it did go by relatively unnoticed, which is not all that surprising considering how uninspired it appears in the Jeff Lau canon of costumed mo lei tau. It stars Betty Sun as Jin Ling, a young woman whose magical yueqin (a kind of round guitar) compels people tell to the truth. One day this creates a humiliating situation for Mrs Zhao (Guo Degang), a rich businesswoman who punishes her by arranging her marriage with the town’s hunchback Mao Da-Long (Lam Suet), with whose brother Mao Song (Ekin Cheng) Jin Ling ends up falling in love. That doesn’t sit well with Shi Wen Sheng (Ronald Cheng) Mrs Zhao’s libidinous cousin, who wants the young woman for himself and plots to take the Mao brothers out of the picture. To complicate things, two aliens from planet B16 named Tranzor and Shakespeare (Patrick Tam Yiu-Man and Alex Fong Lik-Sun) arrive in town in search of a long-lost member of their species. They’re not the only aliens around however, as a fearful entity known as the Black Emperor is hiding somewhere.

This synopsis should tell you that Jeff Lau has lost none of his ability to weave increasingly nonsensical plots, but Just Another Margin remains quite unremarkable for most of its runtime. The humor is largely uninspired, a mixture of dull vaudeville as misunderstandings and scheming abound between the main characters, and a few instances of soft mo lei tau: the sight of Ekin Cheng possessed by aliens, with a bird’s nest on his head, blood coming out of his eyes and nose, and singing a weird song is one of the film’s few memorable moments. There’s actually more drama than comedy here, but too much nonsensical comedy for the drama to be taken seriously at all, which makes for a very unfulfilling experience on the whole. And Jeff Lau regrettably ends the film in a flurry of cheap CGI, as alien-fairies (don’t ask) fight it out around spaceships and mountains. For this entire finale, Ekin Cheng was quite obviously not available for filming, which means he’s replaced by a lookalike who’s never shown in close-ups.

The film’s main – and perhaps only – pleasure is its cast. Ekin Cheng is always a delight in semi-goofy roles that send up his brooding persona, and Lam Suet brings heart to the film while showing yet again that he’s much more than a glorified cameo artist. Ronald Cheng is saddled with the same old ‘vain and lecherous’ role, but he has a few sparks with fellow overactor Guo Degang. Patrick Tam Yiu Man and Alex Fong Lik Sun are also quite entertaining as zany aliens, and there’s the usual barrage of fun cameos, including rising star Lin Gengxin as a bandit and fallen star Roy Cheung as a constable (flanked by Timmy Hung and Philip Ng). Betty Sun and Crystal Huang on the other hand are wasted, the former in an ill-defined and often sidelined flower vase role, and the latter too quickly replaced by Hu ge. Again, don’t ask.

Long Story Short: Despite appealing leads and fun cameos, Just Another Margin is just a muted retread of familiar Jeff Lau tropes, with uninspired comedy, dull drama and cheap CGI. **

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