A takedown of capitalist corruption and greed that's savvily packaged as a song-and-dance extravaganza.
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★★★★★ review by Arsaib Gilbert on Letterboxd
The most remarkable aspect of Johnnie To’s dazzling new musical satire, Office, is the relatively sparse, quasi-Brechtian production design by William Chang, best known for his (generally baroque) work with Wong Kar Wai (Chang has designed, art directed and edited pretty much all of Wong’s movies). It is comprised primarily of a grid of fluorescent tubes, metal beams, and color-coordinated plastic and electronic fixtures—not to mention a large, prominently placed clock likely meant to evoke Metropolis (1927).
The deliberate artifice of the expansive, multistory set, ostensibly representing a minimalist postmodern corporate setting, is not only a visual manifestation of the guises under which many of the characters operate but also of the alluring yet precarious nature of modern capitalism (similar to Mr. To’s 2011 Life Without Principle, the film is set against the backdrop of 2008’s financial crisis).
While Office likewise deals with a number of important and pertinent themes, it is first and foremost a triumph of mise-en-scène—in addition to the production design, Mr. To's camerawork and blocking are typically meticulous—and an elegant visual (and aural) feast from start to finish.
★★★½ review by matt lynch on Letterboxd
Thrilled to see that this latest installment of Capitalism vs. China's collective psyche isn't melancholy homework (I'm looking at you, Jia) but a delirious blast of comedy and design, a literal cultural x-ray.
★★★★ review by Sean Gilman on Letterboxd
Really glad I got a chance to see this in 3D, it makes the already wondrous set design work even better, all those lines receding into the frame. To does great work with crowds as well, the depth of field goes out, rather than towards the audience, so the young protagonists are constantly getting lost in the shifting levels of the corporate hierarchy. So many of the songs are good, the Tang Wei-Eason Chan duet at the center of the film might simply be the best musical number of the 21st century, and the single shot children's chorus explanation of the financial crisis (the pigs and wolves song) is better than all of The Big Short. But there's an unsteadiness to the drama, the kids' romance isn't developed enough, and Sylvia Chang's relationship with Lee Xiang is too left to implication. I love the stillness of Chow Yun-fat's performance (contrast to his work in the From Vegas to Macau movies and it's hard to believe it's the same guy, but that's the story of Chow Yun-fat, I guess), so I don't think we need more of him (because when he finally lets on all he's done at the end it's a killer). It feels like the best two hours of a three hour movie.
★★★★½ review by Neil Bahadur on Letterboxd
Really something else...distant relative Adam Cook called it "Brechtian" and I think he's right in that regard, specifically in the films first quarter. Which makes the melodramatic turn in the films final quarter all the more impressive, I think. I admit I had a hard time watching this, because I was too close to the screen and the amount of dialogue in subs was drawing my attention away from the images. It's a silly reason, but it's true. Yeah, this movie really is something else though, not so much underwhelming upon first viewing but rather more fascinating than I expected it to be. It's certainly the most conceptually designed of the To films I've seen, using sparseness to make clearer points on pomposity, all the while giving more details and information on an infrastructure I despise (but am always fascinated by) but did no fully understand. In this regard, it's more accomplished compared to other big "financial madness" films like Wolf of Wall Street or Welcome to New York.
While (perhaps because of my trouble in watching the images and reading the subtitles) I didn't gain a full understanding of the narrative (which is quite loose) I found myself confronted by a unexpected and frightening great sadness upon the final dance. The films formal and narrative aggressiveness almost obscures how a deeply felt film it is. As NRH mentioned to me on twitter, "Like Life Without Principle it's either very funny or terrifying, depending on what weight you put on the image." And it's reasons like that why To remains one of the few great contemporary masters.
Interesting to note regarding Brecht: the films musical sequences are certainly the most "dialectic theatre" in this regard, and the songs themselves don't sound say, contemporary or upbeat or poppy in any way...they sound more like communist peasant chants from China circa Mao....hmm....
★★★★ review by Sean Gilman on Letterboxd
Love without Principle.
Coming up on the next episode of The George Sanders Show.
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