Like if Baz Luhrmann made a daytime soap-opera version of Wall Street. Epic, lavish, and totally bonkers. Not everything fully registers on the first pass, but this is destined for a very specific audience.
Clearly trying his very best to out-weird the competition, prolific Asian filmmaker Johnnie To switches gears completely with his latest effort: a glitzy, sprawling 3D musical set within the cutthroat world of the Chinese stock market. No, I don’t know either.
Gunning for quite possibly the broadest title To could possibly think of, Office finds its substance in the many overlapping lives of, you guessed it, office-workers, as they juggle their corporate struggles with a whole range of differing dramas, from volatile love triangles to secret identities. The chairman’s daughter attempts to hide her privileged background as a lowly office assistant, an enthusiastic new recruit tries to charm his way to the top and a corrupt supervisor finds his dodgy dealings blowing up in his face. Business is, after all, brutal.
Yet despite adopting a far drier topic to his usual fare, To still maintains his trademark craziness here. The guns may have been switched for pens, but there’s still a certain punkiness to the proceedings, and a definite eye for visual detail. Office unfolds within a series of complex and insanely gorgeous sets; huge, Broadway-style set-ups which allow the camera to loop around the action incredibly smoothly, whilst still maintaining a truly grand sense of scale. The lack of any sense of daylight can prove to be a little unsettling at times, but on the whole, Office is insanely on-point with its visuals.
All that’s needed to complete the formula then is a winning narrative, but sadly this is something that To struggles to find amongst all the glitz and glam of the musical scene. The songs themselves are catchy enough, if somewhat repetitive, but the film’s central stories often feel far too random in their execution to be properly involving. With so many overlapping love triangles and financial double-crosses, it becomes pretty difficult to keep up with what’s happening, and whilst they certainly add some extra flavour at times of need, To’s frequent time jumps and sudden reveals also end up confusing things even more. And so, it ultimately proves too hard to get a hold on exactly who everyone is and exactly what’s going on to really fully engage.
On the whole, however, this doesn’t really seem to be much concern for To. Office is odd by its very nature; a musical, but one destined for a cult crowd whose tastes and interests no doubt extend far beyond the realms of simply knowing what’s going on. After all, story aside, this is an incredibly ambitious and bonkers idea executed for the most part, pretty well. In fact, for all its problems, it may well be the best 3D musical about the Chinese stock market in the history of cinema. There’s one for the poster.
Office (2015), directed by Johnnie To, is being shown as part of the 2015 BFI London Film Festival. Further information about the film including screening times and ticket information can be found here.