Meow (Benny Chan, 2017)

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From Mao to Meow: Revolution in Contemporary Chinese Cinema

Pop will eat itself.

Last summer veteran Hong Kong director Benny Chan brought us the year’s best martial arts film with the High Noon variation Call of Heroes. This year, he’s made the summer’s most improbable movie: a heart-warming comedy about a giant alien cat who befriends a mop-headed Louis Koo and his wacky family. Pudding is the greatest warrior on the distant planet Meow, a cat-world (literally: it’s shaped like a cat’s head) wracked by meteor collisions that has been hoping to colonize Earth for centuries. But none of the cat-agents sent to Earth have ever returned, though there are snippets of their successes: inspiring worship from the ancient Egyptians and modeling yoga in India. Pudding crashes on Earth and loses his MacGuffin, making him susceptible to the corrupting influences of Earth static. In a last ditch effort to save himself, he merges with the form of a fat orange house-cat, the resulting abomination being a obese, six foot tall ball of cuteness.

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Pudding finds himself in the home of Louis Koo, a dim-witted retired soccer player with a weakness for get rich quick schemes. His wife, Mary Ma, is a struggling actress and model with a short temper, his son is a wanna-be filmmaker and his daughter is an adorable moppet with a bum leg. Pudding first attempts to murder the unsuspecting humans, but is foiled in various schemes. Then he tries to simply make them miserable, but fails at that as well. Eventually, one of their cat videos goes viral and Pudding becomes a huge star, appearing in advertisements and movies and commercials, alongside the rest of the family (he even plays the Monkey King in one ad, because by law everyone in Hong Kong gets to play the Monkey King at least once). Koo is of course swiftly swindled out of the family’s newfound fortune, which they were going to use to fix the little girl’s leg. The wife throws him out but everyone quickly reunites at a track meet, where Pudding, having found his MacGuffin, decides to help them out. And everyone tearfully reunites as the MacGuffin is now somehow able to heal the girl’s leg. On his return to Meow, however, Pudding is denounced for having grown soft and fat. His punishment is to exile to a remote farm, where he must dig for potatoes.

So obviously what we have here is a story about the effects of capitalism on the revolutionary spirit, on the power of comfort to pacify the masses into abandoning the cause. Corrupted by the ideology of capitalism, Pudding is literally sent down to the countryside. The temptations of luxury are paralleled in the film itself, as we enter this patently ridiculous giant space cat movie armed with all our defenses against stupid movies: the arrogance of elitism and the perversity of irony. And yet, the actors are so charming, the jokes so silly, the cats and children so cute, that by the time we see Louis Koo looking on proudly as his little girl runs a relay despite her clunky knee brace, that the theatre, I’m not too proud to admit, gets a little dusty. Just as Pudding is corrupted and made soft by the human’s secret weapon (the secret weapon is love), so too must we succumb to the numbing pathos of family melodrama. Workers of the world unite in seeing the Louis Koo giant space cat movie. We have nothing to lose but our dignity.

“A cat is never on the side of power.” – Chris Marker

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