After making its debut at the 29th Tokyo International Film Festival in 2016 and earned Francis Ng a Best Actor nomination the following year at the 36th Hong Kong Film Awards, Roy Szeto’s long-delayed Shed Skin Papa <脫皮爸爸> has finally arrived in our local cinemas late last month.
Adapted from Szeto’s award-winning theatre production Shed Skin, which also happens to be based on Norihiko Tsukuda’s original Japanese play, this fantasy dramedy centres on Tin Lik-Hang (Louis Koo), a struggling film director who’s going through difficult times. His mother has recently passed away and he has to take care of his Alzheimer’s-stricken elderly father Yat-Hung (Francis Ng). He is also burdened with heavy debt after his film company went bankrupt and his estranged wife, Lai Wah (Jacky Cai) desperately wants a divorce.
Things changed when Yat-Hung begins to shed layers of skin every day, making him look younger at each passing time. Lik-Hang soon learns more about his father’s past while offering him a chance to rekindle his rocky father-and-son relationship.
The premise does sound like a Hong Kong version of David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which starred Brad Pitt as the title character who aged backwards. Both old and young age makeup effects applied to Francis Ng’s character of different ages is technically impressive, at least by Hong Kong standard. The scene where Francis Ng’s Yat-Hung appears as six different iterations on the kitchen table at the same time is easily the highlight of the movie.
But as much as I admire the convincing reverse-ageing effect in this movie, Shed Skin Papa <脫皮爸爸> is pretty much a sloppy piece of work. As both screenwriter and director of the movie, Roy Szeto — best known for penning The Banquet <豪門夜宴> (1991) and The Wicked City <妖獸都市> (1992) — fails to capitalise the potential of its fantastical premise. He did attempt to blend comedy, drama and fantasy altogether but the genre mishmash — often a major speciality in Hong Kong movies — feels either awkwardly misplaced or largely uneven. For instance, I felt odd each time Francis Ng’s Yat-Hung suddenly burst into songs or plucking a mini guitar, while most of the jokes fall flat.
The least saving grace is Francis Ng’s multifaceted performance. He’s actually decent at best and not really the kind that deserved an award recognition. Louis Koo, fresh off this year’s Hong Kong Film Awards win for Best Actor in Paradox <殺破狼・貪狼>, does an adequate job portraying a down-on-his-luck filmmaker. The rest of the supporting roles including Jacky Cai, Jessie Li (as Lik-Hang’s young mother) and Kristal Tin (as Lik-Hang’s former one-night stand lover) all appear in their respective minor roles that come and go without leaving much of a lasting impression.
There’s a scene where Yat-Hung and Lik-Hang share a wonderful father-and-son moment in the empty football stadium while recalling how they use to enjoy assorted snacks during the game. It was the only time I felt emotionally connected to the movie, as Szeto successfully evokes a nostalgic trip down memory lane. If only he could do the same with the rest of the movie, Shed Skin Papa <脫皮爸爸> would have been a better result.
Instead, what we have here is a huge, missed opportunity.