The Post 97 Impotency in Men Suddenly in Black

It is said that a "neo impotent hero" phenomenon exists in the cinema between post 97 and post 7.1, evidenced by films such as La Brassiere, Wu Yen, The Lion Roars, The Twins Effect, Love For All Seasons, Love Undercover II: Love Mission, and Good Times, Bed Times. In that case Men Suddenly in Black is more than qualified to make the list of "impotent" films.

Here "impotent" has the greater sense of "ineptness", the male embarrassment of fallen out of the time and peak. In contrast, women (not necessarily feminism) predominates. The four guys in Men Suddenly in Black are definitely of the pathetic type. In their attempt to get some extra-martial lay in the break of fourteen hours, three of them can't help but be nostalgic over their glory days five years ago, the golden age the remaining one had not even seen. The film is set to take place on 16th August 2002, that makes "the days of sex and women" with Uncle Nine (played by Tony Leung Ka-Fai) to end with the Handover. The decline and fall of these men is not just their personal tragedy, but also a sign of the times.

According to the director Pang Ho-cheung, Men Suddenly in Black is an attempt in "genre subversion". This sex comedy is filmed in the solemn style of a gangster film, with the gangster boss replaced by a little guy womanizer and the gang war by battle of wits between the couples. The "misplaced" genre itself provides a incongruous comical effect, and it also reinforces the ironic jibes at the men, especially Kwok Tin-yau played by Eric Tsang. Many scenes are lifted from Infernal Affairs, featuring the same Eric Tsang. But his boss here is a far cry from the boss in Infernal Affairs, creating a sense of black humour in the process. The use of the song "He-Man" is also ironic, as a song exalting the police upholding law and order, it is now a prep song for some gutless womanizers. Another song, the theme song from the TV series "The Book and the Sword" has a similar effect.

As a film, Men Suddenly in Black is smoothly executed. Director Pang Ho-cheung is especially clever in appropriating gangster film elements such as forced confession, chase, negotiation, fallout, sacrifice, and undercover for use in this sex comedy. The simulation gunfight of using camera versus fire extinguishers is an obvious parody of cult films.

If we want to nit-pick, it is the film's ideological duplicity. Though promoted as a "macho film for chicks", the women in the film are stereotypical – bossy housewives, "handbag" professionals, and superstition freaks. In the end, Teresa Mo tips her husband off with a cell phone message. The implication of this turning a blind eye to save a marriage is very retrogressive. Moreover, the film takes our sympathy for these pathetic men for granted; does it mean that it is right to cheat on their wives? Men Suddenly in Black, in the end of the day, is made from the male perspective.

By Lawrence Pun

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