Johnnie To’s ‘Office’ Might Be the Year’s Best Recession Musical


Anyone whose only exposure to Johnnie To came via Drug War, that brutally no-nonsense account of a Chinese cartel from a few years back, will probably be surprised to learn that his latest is a 3-D musical.

is far from the genre-hopping auteur’s first foray into lighter fare, however, and his song-and-dance movie hums with the same vibrant energy as his many descents into Hong Kong’s criminal underworld.

Much credit is owed to Sylvia Chang, who adapted her own play Design for Living for the screen and co-stars as the CEO of a mainland trading firm whose imminent IPO happens to coincide with the 2008 financial meltdown. Winnie’s countless underlings include two minnows in a sea of faces who get paired with, and eventually fall for, one another; in a break from their colleagues, whose marching songs are meant to make the drudgeries of work more bearable, these brave souls sing that “We’re not yet in a relationship/But already afraid of ending it.”

That lyrical verve is matched by inventive production design and fluid camerawork: To treats his all-encompassing sets as ecosystems unto themselves, complete with an Oz-like hospital wing featuring black tile flooring and green dividing curtains — one of many visuals that draws attention to its own candy-colored artifice. Wry and self-aware but never finger-wagging, Office looks back on an economic precipice and finds more humor and spirit than any other depiction yet made about it.

Directed by Johnnie To
China Lion
Opens March 25, Metrograph