Although the premise of the Hong Kong movie AV sounds amusing enough – a bunch of students gang together and pretend to make a porn film, just to get it on with their favourite porn star – there are so many ways the film could go wrong; in terms of the lack of political correctness of the content; running into danger of contributing to the cheap smut and sleazy attitudes it is attempting to satirise; or worse, in just not being funny enough. Fortunately, while being nothing new or exceptional in the movie world, AV overcomes most of the potential pitfalls and delivers an entertaining sex comedy.
Inspired by a friend of theirs, Kar-lok, who has used his status as a film student and the facilities of the school to pick up a girl by pretending to cast her in a graduation movie he is making, a group of four equally horny, lazy students – Band Aid, Fatty, Jason and Leung - hit on a scheme to get laid in style. Approaching a government loan officer (Eric Kot) with a bunch of harebrained schemes to get a new enterprise grant, they incredibly manage to convince him into parting with the $200,000 they need to hire their favourite AV star, the 20 year-old Japanese actress Amamiya Manami, judged by connoisseurs of porn films to be their best candidate. Doing their best to convince Manami’s manager that they are a professional outfit, and reining in the services and financial support of fellow students (in a very funny ‘I have a dream’ presentation speech), the guys try to keep their movie secret from the school authorities and under control of a “director” who is starting to take it all very seriously indeed.
The humour in AV is very much male-oriented, and although it tends to laugh at the laddish behaviour of the characters, it doesn’t demean these poor guys who are strung along by their raging hormones too much. Whether it is demeaning to women is another matter - regarding Manami as little more than an object for them to fantasise over and compete to be the first person to make the earth move for her - but the film tries to counteract this by letting her have the last laugh. And, while AV is not exactly laugh-a-minute material, there are plenty of funny set-piece sequences, and a number of funny movie references (a lot of the incidents are based on Pang’s own experiences of film school and a few of his friends, including the real Kar-lok and Eric Kot, make cameo appearances in the film). A poster of ‘Trainspotting’ in the room hints at the types of characters AV wants to emulate, but the furthest these guys go with drugs is trying to impress a couple of girls that they are wild characters, but cutting and snorting lines of sugar with a bus pass, thinking they are Al Pacino in ‘Scarface’. The film also manages to make humorous references to Tarkovsky, with the boys’ director “Wong Kar-lok” calling his film ‘Sculpting In Time’, and hiding his illicit video of the girl he talked into appearing in his “student film” in a ‘Stalker’ video case. There are plenty of other references there for you to feel smug at spotting.
Less convincing are the mostly ham-fisted attempts at satire. Contemplating a park where students once fought against political repression, Leung bemoans the state of students today, who now just come there to ogle women. (There also seems to be a dedication to those students at the end of the film, but I’m not sure what the point of that is or whether a sex comedy is really the vehicle for such a tribute). This is also evident, although slightly funnier, in the aforementioned ‘I have a dream’ sequence, where Leung compares their vision of making a fake porn movie to Rosa Parks, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the first man walking on the moon. It’s funny because to these students you sense that they really believe it. Most successfully in this vein of humour is the speech by one of the guys’ uncles (Jim Chim) – a dealer in porn movies himself, he rails against the lack of vision and imagination expressed by the students, calling them a sad and selfish generation. It’s a pity he doesn’t feature more in the film, as he almost steals the show, and his rant is superbly set to a rap for the closing titles of the film.
In the main though, AV hits most of its targets at least as far as sex comedy humour goes, carrying through on its simple premise with only a little nudity on show and milking it for all the humour that can be derived from the situation without delving into smutty innuendo or gross-out obscenity. By the end of the film though, the boys and AV drop their pretence of being wild and crazy and both they and the film reveal the sweet, romantic heart you know really lies beneath.
AV is released on DVD in Hong Kong as a 2-disc Special Edition by Mei Ah, a company have certainly improved the standard of their releases from what they were like a few years ago. Both the film and a number of extra features, including the commentary track, are fully subtitled in English. The DVD is Region 0. A word of advice. If you are interested in purchasing the DVD I’d recommend clicking on the direct YesAsia link below rather than searching an Asian DVD retailer with the string ‘AV’, as you are likely to pick up a lot of other titles and covers you might not want displayed across your screen. It’s also currently available for a ludicrously cheap price of $7.99.
The video quality on the Mei Ah release is excellent – a sharp, clear and colourful anamorphic transfer. I’m not sure about the colour tones – occasionally, in outdoor shots they look a little cool and indoor shots a little warm, slightly saturated with that flatness that is often evident in Asian NTSC transfers, but more often the film simply looks terrific. There is a slight hint of a blue bleed at edges when figures are set against bright backgrounds, but this is not frequently seen. Dust spots are occasionally visible, but are not frequent either. Presented on a dual-layer disc, there are scarcely any sign of digital artefacts. In the main this is an impressive transfer.
The film comes with original Cantonese DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks and a Mandarin dub. The DTS might have a slight edge with a bit more of a boom to it, but this is a film that doesn’t go overboard on sound effects, so either of the Cantonese mixes is perfectly adequate. Voices tend to be a little on the dull and muffled side, centre based and the bass is a little boomy, but the soundtrack is perfectly clear, so this is probably more to do with the conditions of the on-set recording than anything else.
Optional English subtitles are provided and are mostly error-free. I only saw one or two very minor typos.
Disc 1 Extras
Photo Gallery (2:12)
Presented in anamorphic 16:9, a number of excellent quality stills are shown as a slideshow.
Theatrical Trailers and TV Spots (2:25)A fine trailer, with subtitles, sums up the film well. The TV Spot is an advertisement for the DVD release.
Secret Message from Amamiya Manami (3:35)
Not a Secret Massage as advertised on the back cover of the DVD, (the mind boggles), the AV actress sends personal messages to the director and the cast, talking about how much she enjoyed working on the film. She’s lovely! In Japanese with fixed Chinese and English subtitles.
Making of AV (11:55)
Presented as if by an AV girl, this making of is well put together, showing lots of on-set fooling around behind the scenes. It’s short, but the right kind of length for this type of feature aiming for entertainment value rather than being informative. It’s presented in 1.85:1 letterbox with fixed English and Chinese subtitles.
The director describes how the inspiration for the film came from the unlikely source of a quote from Chen Kaige. In both English and Chinese text.
A Synopsis and brief Cast and Crew information are provided, but are only in Chinese text.
Disc 2 Extras
A full commentary is provided for the film by the director and cast in front of a camera with the film shown as an insert, so you can see who is speaking, who is answering their cell phone and who keeps walking in and out of the room. It’s an interesting way to see a commentary, and suits this film. Surprisingly, it is fully subtitled in English, although the quality of the translation kind of deteriorates as the film goes on, or maybe it’s the quality of what the cast are saying. Among other things, they discuss Hong Kong censorship and how they got a lot of borderline sexual references past the censor.
Deleted Scenes (9:46)
Not all the 30 minutes of cuts that Pang promises in the commentary track appear here. 11 deleted or extended scenes are shown, but without English subtitles (or even Chinese subtitles for one Japanese dialogue scene), they are of limited interest.
NG Footage (1:43)
A few outtakes are shown – again no subtitles and little of any real interest.
AV doesn’t really have that much to say about the young generation, nor does it have anything particularly new to add to the teen-comedy genre, and although it is not a laugh-a-minute, the film is nevertheless reasonably well-paced and delivers on its premise through a number of very funny sequences and movie-fan references. Sure, to some extent it does treat women as objects to be ogled, lusted after and exploited for the ends of horny young males, but it’s all in the service of comedy, and as long as it’s funny, it’s ok. Mei Ah’s Special Edition DVD is most impressive, presenting the film very well indeed, with a fine picture, a DTS soundtrack, an innovative commentary and some entertaining extra features. The DVD can be purchased very cheaply indeed, and is superb value for an entertaining little package.