All U Need is Love (Hong Kong, 2021) [NYAFF 2021]

All U Need is Love may have been rightfully marketed as a sublime exercise in fan service for Hong Kong cinema aficionados, but it proves to be much more than that thanks to its heartfelt wit and sense of ingenuity. The film targets the COVID-19 pandemic in a manner that is respectful yet completely epitomizes the spirit of Hong Kong comedies from the early 2000s. More casual audiences will likely still enjoy Vincent Kok’s latest directorial effort for its slapstick antics and blistering star power, but this is a film that is tailor made for fans of Hong Kong cinema. All U Need is Love isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but it provides audiences with just the right amount of fun and hopefulness for a pandemic-themed narrative.

Set in (relatively) present time Hong Kong, a fictional high-end hotel becomes the epicenter of a potential coronavirus outbreak. Its occupants are forced to quarantine in isolation for 14-days, which results in unexpected interactions and relationship building amidst bubbling fear and uncertainty. The film’s primary hotel occupants include the likes of Eric Tsang, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Michael Hui, Chin Kar Lok, Julian Cheung, Louis Cheng, Carlos Chan and Jacky Cai (just to name a few). Also, there are guest appearances from Louis Koo, Jackie Chan, Francis Ng, Philip Keung, Chrissie Chau, Alex Fong Lik-Sun, Gordan Lam, Kent Cheung and Pinky Cheung. It’s a stacked call sheet to say the least.

Despite being set during the still very real events of COVID-19, All U Need Is Love isn’t the kind of film that provides any crucial social commentary on the global pandemic. Within its rather simplistic narrative, it might be partially revealing in its representation of how society has responded to the virus itself, but this is far from its primary objective. The film is first and foremost an artistic endeavor, formed through the creation of an industry banding together during a global pandemic. With the local Hong Kong film industry struggling for years, well before the pandemic, the idea of multiple production companies (spearheaded by Louis Koo and Eric Tsang) banding together to finance a local product during such difficult times is an inspiring backstory; one that is important context for a film that might otherwise be viewed as a non-sensible commercial outing with a long list of guest appearances.

Unfortunately, the actual box office numbers for the film unfortunately sang another tune, but that shouldn’t curb one’s enthusiasm for its underlying spirit. Putting its financing narrative aside, the film still bleeds of local reverence and embodies a level of randomness that feels naturally and domestically Hong Kong. Whether it’s the throwback to Men Suddenly in Black (2003) or the deconstruction of the blood brothers triad troupe, the goofiness feels inherently like a comedy that can only come from Hong Kong cinema. Kok, perhaps with his own longstanding involvement in the industry as a comedian both behind and in front of the camera, aptly pieces together multiple moving parts in a seamless fashion.

One might argue that the film doesn’t necessarily add anything to the comedy genre itself, and really just rehashes our collective fondness for what the genre has always been capable of doing within a local film, full of its local quirks and antics. And as valid as that may be, it’s hard not to admire the level of endearment stemming from all the thespians who chose to participate in the film, no matter how brief their appearances are. It’s a reminder of how much talent and history Hong Kong cinema has and always will have, which feels oddly inspiring, despite the film’s comedic tones. Hell, even Jackie Chan, who has been a polarizing figure in Hong Kong for years now thanks to his mainland-leaning views, makes a guest appearance in a scene that goes full force Police Story on the homage scale. Not counting Dragon Blade (2015) or Kung Fu Yoga (2017), both of which had Hong Kong directors but weren’t locally produced, you have to go back to Shaolin (2011) or Chinese Zodiac (for Chan’s last appearance in a ‘true’ Hong Kong film.

Let’s face it, Vincent Kok isn’t Hong Kong’s most illustrious filmmaker, but All U Need Is Love fits perfectly with his own comedic tendencies and is an enjoyable experience that feels collectively personal. It’s not the type of film that one would think to define this current global pandemic, but in some strange way, manages to do just that. Even if the financial and critical reception didn’t end up being as uplifting as the film’s production struggles would’ve hoped for, it shines as a beacon of hope for an industry that has been hurting for years. All U Need Is Love is far from the solution to Hong Kong cinema’s existential or financial woes, but in a rather random and silly way, it’s a flavor of the spirit the industry needs.

All U Need is Love was shown at the New York Asian Film Festival.