Thursday, November 26, 2020

Memories to Choke On, Drinks to Wash Them Down offers up bittersweet portraits of Hong Kong (Film review)

Now screening at my favorite cinema in Hong Kong :)

Memories to Choke On, Drinks to Wash Them Down (Hong Kong, 2019)
- Leung Ming-kai and Kate Reilly, co-directors
- Starring: Leong Cheok Mei, Mia Mungil, Zeno Koo, Lam Yiu Sing, Kate Reilly, Gregory Wong, Jessica Lam
This four-part anthology film had its world premiere at last year's Hong Kong Asian Film Festival but began its local theatrical run only this November.  So much has happened in Hong Kong since its very first screening its home territory.  Among other things, one of its stars was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit criminal damage and forcible entry into the Legislative Council a few months back and, not coincidentally, Memories to Choke On, Drinks to Wash Them Down has been deemed a "yellow" movie -- with calls coming from a number of individuals in the pro-democracy camp to go support it in at the box office in the way one would shops that are part of the yellow economic circle.      
As more than one person who's gone to view this independent film has found though, it is a worthy watch based on quality alone, and I think it is very possible to appreciate this movie even if one is not super politically inclined.  At the same time though, many of its details will be particularly appreciated by those viewers who know and dearly love Hong Kong; this not least because this film does seem to be speaking to those who are this way inclined, like its husband and wife pair of co-directors themselves.
One of the best things about Memories to Choke On, Drinks to Wash Them Down is its telling the stories of the kind of regular folks who don't usually get much screentime in other movies.  For instance, its first part, Forbidden City, revolves around two women who are transplants to Hong Kong.  The elder of them (played by Leong Cheok-mei) came from Mainland China during the Cultural Revolution and now makes her home in a New Territories village; the younger (essayed by Mia Mungil) arrived from Indonesia ten years ago to work as a domestic worker and currently cares for the latter, whose memory is no longer what it used to be.         
Over the course of the short time that we see them together, it is clear that they are both good to, and care for, each other.  This also is the case for the two brothers (portrayed by Zeno Koo and Lam Yiu-sing) whose tale is told in the film's second tale, Toy Stories.  Set largely in the confines of the old Sham Shui Po toy shop which their mother wants to sell, it ably weaves together themes of brotherhood, childhood, adulthood, memories and ambitions to tell an affecting tale that will make one nostalgic even while realizing that times change and we have to grow up, and move on.
Memories to Choke On, Drinks to Wash Them Down's third part is another two-hander.  The low budget film's biggest name, Gregory Wong, and co-director Kate Reilly play teachers in Yuen Yeung who meet by a drinks vending machine on her first day at school (and early on in her Hong Kong sojourn).  Bonding over caffeinated packet drinks (lemon tea for him; yuen yeung for her), the colleagues turned friends spend time hanging out together in cha chaan teng, cooked food markets and more.  But while there's quite a bit of food porn on show in this segment, its real substance goes beyond culinary tourism; and a visit to the branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken that he tells her is the most romantic KFC and its surroundings ends up being so emotionally evocative that I found myself choking and tearing up.
Non-fictional unlike the three other segments of the movie and focused on a single individual for the most part, the film's fourth and final section, It's Not Going to Be Fun, felt jarringly at odds with the rest of the work and was the least enjoyable section of this omnibus offering.  It didn't help that I couldn't figure out if the subject in focus, a young aspiring District Councillor named Jessica Lam, was actually being self-deprecating or a real ditz for much of the time that she was on screen.        

As it turned out though, this documentary segment ended up eliciting the strongest emotions from me because it turned out to capture a precious moment of Hong Kong history where hope existed and triumph was possible.  Maybe there will come a time when one can look back and smile at it all.  Sadly, this is currently not the case.  The English title of this Hong Kong film did serve notice that it would be bittersweet.  And so Memories to Choke On, Drinks to Wash Them Down proved to be, with the bitter bits really delivering quite the punch to the gut even while the sweet sections continued to linger long after I made my way out of the cinema. 

My rating for the film: 7.5


sarah bailey knight said...

This looks really interesting and I hope to see it sometime at a Film Festival.

On another note I got myself LOCKED off Facebook. I was told it should be restored within 24 hours. Do you still have email. I have 3 email addresses for you.

YTSL said...

Hi sarah --

The film's currently playing online as part of the San Diego Asian Film Festival but, alas for you, access is limited to Californians.

And oh my re your Facebook problems! Yes, I still have email. Try the latest one you've got for me -- which you can find on the About Me section of this blog, actuall!