LFF film review: Office (3D) Print
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 16 October 2015 17:22

Director: Johnnie To
Cast: Sylvia Chang, Chow Yun Fat, Eason Chan, Tang Wei
Showtimes: 20.45, 16th / 12.00, 17th

Is there a more exciting phrase in the English language than "a Johnnie To musical"? The director's eye for martial arts choreography makes him a perfect match for the glitz of Broadway.

Office does exactly what it says on the tin: the entire spectacle is based around the day-to-day goings-on in a workplace. The workplace in question? Jones & Sunn, a billion-dollar financial giant, which is just about to find itself on the wrong end of the financial crisis. There's CEO Chang (Sylvia Chang), who enjoys pushing other people's buttons more than those on her computer. There's David, who's desperate to climb up the company ladder and into her lap. There are bright young things Lee Xiang (Wang Ziyi) and Kat (Lang Yeuting), both eager to make their marks in the world - and, overseeing it all, Chairman Ho (Chow Yun Fat - who else?), who is also nursing a wife in a coma.

The cast through themselves into the fray with gusto, juggling the script's elegant balance of romance, inter-cubicle gossip, greed and ruin. The songs, though, are a little too one-note to fully jazz up proceedings: between the gentle piano ballads, it doesn't help that the lyrics, due to translation from Cantonese to English, end up somewhere between literal and poetic (one tender scene about dreams and hopes discusses the concept through metaphors involving wind and pigs).

But that challenging idiosyncrasy is a snug fit for what is an undeniably snazzily-dressed number. The set design is some of the most stunning of recent years (Wong Kar Wai's regular collaborator, William Chang, deserves an Oscar): the whole production takes place inside a warehouse of pipes and glass, an angular world that fuses the artifice of modern finance and unfaithful relationships with a beautiful sheen. Indeed, To's camera is the real star of the show, swooshing behind a gigantic timepiece in the middle of the stereoscopic stage. The actors cavort up and down stairs, their clothes gradually moving from the monochrome of office attire to colourful ball gowns and lingerie of the night. All the while, the absurd clock ticks over everyone's professional and private lives. The music may not earn a promotion into your list of favourite musicals, but Office is a show-stopping achievement. Spreadsheets have rarely seemed glamorous.