A musical-comedy-drama about life in a hyper-intensive office environment, Hong Kong director Johnnie To’s latest offering has combined some old school Hollywood sensibility and style with a very modern corporate sheen.
High-powered executives mix their business and personal lives, elements of which are slowly impacted by their discreet relationships and an impending financial crisis. An enigmatic Chow Yun-Fat is joined by Eason Chan and Sylvia Chang (author and star of the original play, Design for Living), who plays the company’s CEO.
Two young and ambitious high-achievers, Lee Xiang (Wang Ziyi) and Kat (Long Yueting) begin minor roles in the upper echelons of the organisation, gradually falling for each other while Kat hides her true identity as the daughter of one of the company’s central figures. Relationships abound, corporate corruption surfaces and true motivations are revealed, all to the accompaniment of an upbeat musical score.
The musical numbers are often a welcome addition to Office and nicely complement the ongoing drama, reviving the style and mannerisms of decades-old Hollywood classics by casually inserting musical interludes into the film, avoiding any obstruction to the narrative by ensuring the music is only ever a secondary focus. The major musical set-pieces involving multitudes of office workers lamenting the daily grind are generally much more entertaining than the frequent solos or duets between the corporate big-wigs, evoking memories of Mel Brooks’ musical, The Producers, among others.
Chow Yun-Fat, despite his limited screen time still commands the strongest presence within the film, his performance both charming and quietly pitiful as he has to contend with family dramas and his relationship with the company CEO, both in and outside the boardroom. Chang as the weathered CEO is also a stand-out as she navigates an IPO and her fraught personal relationship with a frequently underhanded colleague.
Reminiscent of The Secret of My Success and any number of corporate ladder-climbing sagas, Xiang (meaning dreams) carries much of the film with his innocent earnestness and fervent desire to succeed.
What could have been rendered a satire by its exaggerated set, semi-extravagant musical numbers and frequent over-acting remains nevertheless grounded, the film succeeding as a regularly entertaining corporate drama due to the strong performances of its central cast.