The Shopaholics ★★★★½

Director Wai Ka-fai's 2006 film prefigures in many ways his 2011 film Don't Go Breaking My Heart (co-directed with his longtime collaborator Johnnie To). Both are screwball comedies set among the super-rich of 21st century Hong Kong, complicated romantic structures held together only by the ruthless momentum of the scenario and direction and the charm of the lead actors. Cecilia Cheung (who starred in To and Wai's Running On Karma) is a nurse and a compulsive shopper who goes to see a psychiatrist, played by Lau Ching-wan. He treats her, and also hires her. Lau suffers from a fear of making decisions and so of course the two are a perfect match. Then Cheung meets a rich man (Jordan Chan) who has a split personality: miser and shopaholic. The love triangle is further complicated by the return of Lau's ex-girlfriend (Ella Koon), a relentless bargain hunter. The confusion seemingly peaks at a dinner party where the four principals all meet, along with Lau and Chan's parents (the families have long been friends and are similarly afflicted: a gambling addict with a compulsion for foul language, a narcoleptic and another shopaholic), one of whom is played by Wong Tin-Lam), but it only gets crazier from there, the simple Philadelphia Story dramatics ignored for a wold farce, culminating in a mad relay chase through the streets of Hong Kong in prelude to a pair of weddings, scored to a relentlessly chipper version of "I Will Follow Him" with Paula Tsui as the matriarch calmly directing everyone through the streets with a variety of telephones.

The message is simple enough: living in the modern city is so stressful that it creates an endless series of pathologies in its citizens, largely around the capitalist imperative to consume as much as possible. It isn't an especially deep thought, but Wai wrings a remarkable (even for him) amount of fun out of the tangles of relationships and pathologies he's built up. Where Don't Go is a more traditional screwball, addressing the economic crisis in passing and by implication, as its lovers blithely continue their ultra-rich existence despite the ruin that doesn't quite surround them, The Shopaholics, coming pre-meltdown, is pure farce, cheerfully unaware that anything like an economic collapse is even possible, let alone something that could affect the lives of its heroes. The character names alone are a thing of beauty: the women: Fong Fong-fong and Ding Ding-dong; the Men: Choosey Lee and Richie Ho.

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