Directed by Johnnie To
Official Selection, 2015 Toronto International Film Festival
You’ve never seen an office like this. Sprawled out in spectacular white-lit frames, it’s a neon prison leading its worker-bees from transparent cell to the next, locked in a tinker box cross between a train set and the inside of a giant analog clock. It’s a futuristic cathedral for capitalism, but also a sign of corporate pride hypnotized by its own architectural excess. Not surprisingly, it’s 2007 and there’s a crisis around the corner: financial and interpersonal.
And behold: it’s directed by Johnnie To, whose knack for light-footed living (Sparrow) and intricate choreography and cinematic showmanship (Exiled, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart) make him the perfect candidate to adapt Sylvia Chang’s smash play Design for Living into a full-blown musical. With a dream team of collaborators (Dayu Lo as composer, Lin Xi as lyricist, William Chang as production designer) he translates spreadsheets into a chessboard of corporate intrigue: pawns dancing with queens, bishops shimmying in for the kill.
Chow Yun-fat plays the company chairman and Sylvia Chang his CEO and long-time mistress. They don’t say much to each other but the workers are abuzz about the fate of the power couple. Some, like the idealistic lad Lee Xiang (Wang Ziyi) and the wily mid-level exec David Wong (Eason Chan), have power plays up their sleeves, partnering strategically, romantically, and musically with the unhappy Sophie (Tang Wei) and the secretive Kat (Lang Yueting).
OFFICE is the splashy id version of To’s Life without Principle, an extravaganza of cash flow standing in for emotional connection, a bubble economy of false feelings waiting to burst into song. Like the omniscient clock at the center of William Chang’s set, OFFICE marches brazenly forward, daring all to miss a step and dance to their own beat. –Brian Hu