CHANGE OF GANGSTER (2019) review

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In Change of Gangster, his long-delayed fifth film as a director and actor, Francis Ng plays Francis Ng, a fading star whose recent failed attempt at an arthouse reinvention leaves him in dire need of a hit. He reluctantly accepts the lead role in The Godfather’s Son, a gangster drama bankrolled by a rich heir (Qiao Shan), whose director (Wen Song) is aiming for all-time greatness, and in which child star Feynman (Feynman Ng, Francis Ng’s actual son) is to play his son. But the has-been and the child actor don’t get along at all, and the beginning of production is plagued by constant strife, until by accident Francis’ head is hit by a falling toolbox. When he wakes up, he thinks he’s actually the gangster he plays in the film, and that Feynman is really his son. Sensing a way to salvage his film, the director decides to follow the brain-injured star around with cameras, as he prances around Hong Kong challenging gangs, while trying to connect with the boy he thinks is his son.

As a director, Francis Ng doesn’t lack variety or ambition, after the dark thriller 9413, the well-meaning educational drama What is a Good Teacher, the local satire Dancing Lion and the Wu Xia parody Tracing Shadow. Here’s he’s mid-way between the latter two films, offering both a satire of the film industry and a parody of Hong Kong gangster films. As a satire it’s blunt, offering up only unsubtle stereotypes: the greedy, ignorant producer, the pretentious director, the overbearing agent, the spoilt child star… As a parody, it doesn’t fare much better, plagued as it is with constant overacting from all involved – especially Ng himself, who constantly goes overboard with a puzzling, grimacing performance that’s neither amusing nor touching when it wants to be.

And Feynman Ng is simply not a talented child actor, saying all his lines in a whiny monotone. The film quickly appears to be nothing more than a father-son vanity project (though given Feynman’s young age, it would be more fair to call it a “father vanity project”), one that makes M.Night Shyamalan’s After Earth look like an intergenerational masterpiece. The cameos – Simon Yam, Ken Lo, Simon Lui and a few others – are listless, and only Ng Chi Hung is genuinely funny as gangster who yearns for an acting career. There’s also a quick jab at reality TV when Francis’ home is hooked up with cameras to capture his everyday life while his ‘co-stars’ try to do product placement when they’re in the shot – which is ironic since Ng thrust his son in the spotlight from a very early age in the popular reality TV show “Where are we going, Dad?”.

Long Story Short: A blunt, messy, overacted mix of satire and parody. *

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