Update Mad Men to the pre-credit-crunch 2000s. Pepper it with Douglas Sirk melodrama. Set it in a stylized, hermetically sealed version of Hong Kong, with urban landscapes reimagined by way of Tron. Chuck in a brisk brace of delirious Jacques Demy musical numbers, scored to crunchy electro-glam torch songs. Shoot it in immersive 3-D. The result is one of the most intoxicatingly unusual, visually entrancing and darkly funny films of recent years.
Johnnie To may be best known for ultraviolent crime thrillers like Election, Vengeance and Drug War, but Office isn’t as great a leap into the unknown as one might assume. To’s films have always been richly stylish, with an increasing focus on character, empathy and psychological insight alongside the balletic bulletry. Office simply replaces the two-gun action sequences with equally athletic song-and-dance sequences.
And this isn’t just a film of high style: Thanks to a scalpel-sharp script by actor turned screenwriter Sylvia Chang—who also plays the icy office matriach alongside Chow Yun-Fat’s glowering CEO—it’s a keenly observed, spiky treatise on office politics. With catchy lyrics about making coffee for the higher-ups and the pitfalls of workplace romance, Office attacks its universal themes with claws bared. In the process, it also offers a unique take on the roots of the 2008 financial crash—basically, everyone in the financial sector was living in a gaudy, self-centered fantasy. And nearly a decade later, To suggests, very little has changed.