Film Review – Cocktail

Cultural relativity can be such a funny thing. What’s trivial in one place can be all the rage in another, and somebody’s taboo often ends up someone else’s hot ticket for the day.

But HK stands unique in its ability to transform items considered par for the course everywhere into sensational material for the masses, and the nightlife has long been one of these topics.

For those with functioning memories, the years just before and after the turn of the millennium bring back flashes of rave movies, hair tossing, and Fing pills overflowing from glass jars. Now those were the days, and they’re still here apparently because going out for a drink works yet in Hong Kong as viable subject matter for a movie.

Not so long ago Drink Drank Drunk came out to good results, but that one was more of a serious comedy and certainly enjoyed the kind of production Cocktail lacks. By the way, Cocktail itself has nothing to do with Tom Cruise or his newly arrived offspring, so don’t get your hopes up. And while the 80’s US flick for its part shied away from the liquor per se, this current release does focus more on the bottled ones, with characters looking almost as cool as Starship Enterprise crewmembers in that bar they had, the one where glasses fizzled and gave off odd puffs of blue smoke.

So, drinking and bars are still being touted as something forbidden and tantalizing. Strange but manageable as pretext for telling a bigger tale, if one exists. That’s not always the case with Cocktail, where although watchability isn’t too big of a problem, it surely doesn’t rank among the cream of the crop either.

At the story’s core is one local dive, known alternately as Heaven and Hell or Half-Mortal, take your pick as the people subtitling this DVD couldn’t.
The place’s run by Candy (awesome rocker and comedienne Candy Lo), a shadowy figure with a heart of gold and everlasting desire to forget via imbibing alcohol and maybe a few other substances. Candy’s bar has a minor reputation for attracting oddball individuals and cheap drinkers, for the boss, when particularly disheartened, freely announced happy hours where everything’s on the house.

Enter all this rookie bartender Paul (Endy Chow), a natural with a keen eye for customizing mixes tailored to people’s personalities. He almost immediately builds himself a following, not least of which is co-pourer Stella (Race Wong). The latter instantly takes to Paul and wants to make him her better half, but as usually happens after hours, there’s competition in the form of sultry Yuki, a broken young lady done by Chloe Chiu.

Paul juggles not only these relationship problems, but also several troubling clients and their pursuant issues, like car sales mogul Michael (Johnson Lee), who’s big into abusing subordinates and anyone else that comes along.

There’s essentially no impetus to the plot in Cocktail, a brave move in view of its sparse settings and short breadth. Unlike other bar movies, it purposefully zeroes in on a specific location and group of people, eschewing atmosphere-building or a sense of context within a place and subculture. You get the impression they didn’t want to address HK’s nightlife as a whole, and as a consequence this film could actually be set anywhere.

The main content highlight in Cocktail, therefore, must be its emphasis on Paul’s regret and pain over his alcoholic father’s death from liver failure. There’s a plethora of mental recollections from Paul explaining their problematic, but ultimately loving, relationship, and we receive a powerful rendition of just how hurt he is in the wake of his father’s passing. Overall, good input from relatively inexperienced Endy Chow, and probably the only real reason Cocktail is worth sitting down to watch.

For sure, modest plugging of Blue Girl beer and having only negatively-portrayed characters smoke aren’t compelling incentives to spend an hour and a half with this release. There have been numerous other nightlife and bar movies set in HK, Taiwan and China over the years, and this obviously isn’t the best of them, but it’s an enjoyable mixture of story and emotion, and doesn’t leave a bitter after taste, which often is good enough.

Rating * * *

Directed by Herman Yau
Starring Candy Lo, Endy Chow, Race Wong, Chloe Chiu
2006, Cantonese, 90 minutes

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