James Lee's latest, Call if You Need Me reminds us that he can make solid films, even genre films, when relaxed of any commercial pressure. There's nothing new about the premise (cousins mixed up in gangs and drugs are forced to make tough choices about their loyalties) or the style (slow paced long takes which let us see and hear their everyday world in stark detail). In other words, it's the sort of gangster film pioneered by Hou Hsiao-hsien's Goodbye South Goodbye and which has become a staple in Asian art cinema. But Lee does everything right: that is, he cares little for the machinations of gang life, favoring instead what it's like to hang out with the low-level bosses, their girlfriends, and their cronies.
Call if You Need Me is able to so effortlessly wade through the various underworld interactions because Lee sets up everything we need to know about the characters in the two efficient long takes which begin the film. From them, we know that Ah Soon and Ah Peng can't keep their hands of each other, though Ah Peng has a dazed frown that suggests that she doesn't belong. We know Or Kia is a decent guy despite the cool frazzled look because he's willing to dance with the fat girl. Most of all, we feel the clan's fraternity and good-will, expressed through drunken banter and druggy dancing, topped off with a nice pop song which takes us into the night and into the opening credits.
HKIFF 2009: Capsule Reviews By Brian Hu