Directed by Johnnie To
Opens September 18
It’s admittedly hard to make the 2008 financial crisis palatable to a large audience. Details about financial institutions shorting subprime mortgage loans leading to a bubble of poorly rated collateralized debt obligations start to vomit so many technical words that even this one sentence seems like a drag. Enter Johnnie To’s Office, a 3D musical that translates the emotional frustration of market failure through office gossip. Collaborating with some of the best in Hong Kong—Sylvia Chang as star and screenwriter, Taiwanese superstar Lo Ta-yu as songwriter, William Chang as set decorator (and what an absurd, beautiful set it is), and Chow Yun-fat starring as the inimitable chairman—To intertwines populist appeal with craft experimentation once again, for better or worse.
Lee Xiang (Wang Ziyi), first shown reading a book titled How to Be the Richest Man, is gunning for the top position in investment firm Jones & Sunn. However, he must begin as an assistant, learning the outs-and-ins of office drama alongside business wit. CEO Chang (Sylvia Chang) acts as mistress to chairman and longtime mentor Ho (Chow Yun-fat), mirroring the developing lethal romance of officemates Sophie (Tang Wei) and David (Eason Chan), whose fallout spells out doom for the entire firm. As the company begins its IPO, the Western market crashes, drowning the riskier firm members into a deep debt. Nothing that breaking out into song can’t solve.
Admittedly, the musical sequences leave one wanting more from the director of some of the most intricate gunfight scenes in recent history. Synchronized office drone movements (answering phones, typing on keyboards, grabbing coffee) are the only bras croisés here. But what To lacks in dance routines, he makes up with intense close-up asides in two-bar sing-song as if the characters were suddenly thrown into the Oresteia. This balance between stodgy, realistic business talk and the fantasy realm of PVC pipe architecture hints at a veteran director unafraid to make some big risks of his own. Come for the showcase of Hong Kong’s talent, stay for the drunken chorus about wage slavery.