It has been ten years since TVB actor Johnson Lee made his promising directorial debut in Citizen King, a 2008 black-and-white indie satire about the reality of Hong Kong movie industry. A decade later, he is back with his sophomore directorial effort in Staycation, a more commercial-friendly feature by comparison which pays tribute to the golden era of Hong Kong family comedies and comedies in general during the 80s and 90s. Even Lee himself, who also co-produced and starred in this movie, inspired his role based on the acting styles of legendary Hong Kong comedian Michael Hui and of course, Chevy Chase of National Lampoon’s Vacation fame.
The story goes like this: To celebrate the 15th wedding anniversary, Fai (Johnson Lee) decides to bring his wife (Louisa So) and his two children to the camping site where he used to propose to her in the first place. En route, they also include Fai’s parents (Ti Lung, Yuen Qiu) and his brother (Andrew Lam) in an ensuing family trip that brings more trouble than joy.
Lee, who is also known as a master impersonator, does successfully captured the spirits of both aforementioned comedy actors to a certain degree. He is ably backed by Louisa So, a TVB veteran best known for her series in Detective Investigation Files, Lord of Shanghai and recently, The Forgotten Valley. Staycation also features decent supports from Hong Kong movie veterans including Ti Lung, Yuen Qiu and Chin Siu-Ho. Law Kar-Ying cranks up his hammy acting style as a multiple-personality camp manager. Andrew Lam does his usual sleazy self as Fai’s mentally unstable brother, whose performance reminds me of his previous like-minded role in last year’s The Sinking City – Capsule Odyssey. The movie even includes Liu Wai-Hung’s cameo appearance as Fai’s boss, his first big-screen appearance since Ho Yu-Hang’s Rain Dogs in 2006. Liu Wai-Hung is, of course, best known for his “Ah Chan” role in the popular late-70s TVB series The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
As for the story, Pau Wai-Chung’s screenplay packs with lots of sexual innuendos where the Cantonese dialogues are distinctly Hong Kong style. Some of them are spot-on hilarious, especially if you are fluent in Cantonese (and no, the English subtitles don’t really help with the overall translation). But it’s kind of misleading that Staycation is widely promoted as a “Chinese New Year family comedy”. I wouldn’t recommend this is the kind of movie best watched with your entire family.
Back to the plot, not everything works in Staycation. The sexual innuendos-heavy dialogues can only go to a certain length, and definitely not enough to offset the otherwise scattershot screenplay. I can see the movie is also trying to ape the Hong Kong comedies of the yesteryears where anything is possible. But in order to make all the mishmash of different genres and wacky going-ons work in a Hong Kong comedy, it has to be funny enough to distract you from the flaws.
Unfortunately, Staycation only manages to succeed as a half-baked effort. The inclusion of a so-called fantasy genre in the form of a giant bird feels awkwardly out of place, while the “serial killer” subplot hinted at the beginning of the movie is nothing more than an unnecessary filler.