By Daniel Barnes
After a brief post-TIFF Bay Area engagement last fall, prolific Hong Kong producer-director Johnnie To’s corporate workplace musical Office gets another run at the California Theatre in Berkeley.
To is best known stateside for crime and action movies like Drug War. However, Office is an example of his Hawks-like ability to adapt his kinetic style across all genres.
An ensemble piece set inside a successful company whose IPO uncovers a hornet’s nest of secrets and desires, Office owes obvious debts to the colorful cynicism of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and The Hudsucker Proxy. The best running joke is the contrast between the inane exuberance of the music and the dark longing of the lyrics. It also owes a slightly less obvious debt to 1950s workplace melodramas like Executive Suite and Patterns.
It’s a film I was dying to love, especially when the 2008 subprime housing crisis becomes a key subplot. Unfortunately, the music is entirely unmemorable and the herky-jerky, stop-start rhythms of the plot kept me at a distance.
That said, this is a must-see movie for production design aficionados, as the entire film gets dominated by large, geometrically intricate sets that feel like IKEA showrooms arranged by Jacques Tati, or a Busby Berkeley version of the stage play from Clouds of Sils Maria. Offices, board rooms, apartments, dive bars, fancy restaurants, hotel rooms, gymnasiums and 24-hour convenience stores are all rendered as a series of vertical lines, Mondrian prisons that dwarf and mock the petty manipulations of the characters.
Read more of Daniel’s reviews at Dare Daniel and Rotten Tomatoes, and listen to Daniel on the Dare Daniel podcast.