A screen card appears moments before the end credits, reminding viewers of the play’s heritage. It states that this classic play has been a part of the English education programme for many years now. That put a smile on my face as I recalled enjoying the detailed study of it during my GCSEs nearly thirty years ago. Unfortunately, my familiarity with the source material might have been to my detriment as a reviewer in 2022…
The absurdly wealthy Kau family are preparing for their daughter’s wedding to the rich heir to another fortune and making sure that no expense is spared in making the event the biggest in Hong Kong’s society calendar. The preparations are interrupted by the arrival of Inspector Karl (Louis Koo, who hams it up something rotten) who has news about a death that will affect the whole family. As he talks to each family member – who are initially disinterested in the death of a young woman who is a ‘nobody’ – they discover their connection to her and the part they may have played in her demise. Eventually, it seems as if the whole Kau family might have been involved in the tragic death.
What’s that sound? Oh, it’s just JB Priestley spinning in his grave (I am assuming he wasn’t cremated). Priestley’s classic play about social responsibility and the effect the elites unknowingly have on the rest of us has been turned into a candy-coloured cornucopia of something – of what exactly, I’m not sure. On one level, it operates the way you expect one of these star-studied New Year comedies to; lots of celebrity cameos and broad humour throughout. On another, it feels like a strange anachronism, albeit it one that has piggy-backed on a fine play. Raymond Wong’s many cameos in this make you feel as if you are watching a comedy from the late 80s heyday – but without the laughs. Everything is so over-the-top and forced while desperately trying to drag all of those ensemble hits of yesteryear kicking and screaming into the 21st century. The result is a bizarre mix.
‘An Inspector Calls’ should be commended on its look though; the visual style is bold and brash and often keeps you distracted during the dull proceedings. It’s use of computer effects and attempt to make this look like it exists in some kind of Tim Burton, ‘Charlie & the Chocolate Factory’ universe, is memorable though hardly enough of a reason to watch the film. It also makes the sight of Raymond Wong – sauntering around as a Hip Hop artist, looking like the embarrassing uncle you meet at family functions who says ‘Are you off to the Disco?’ to kids who barely remember dial-up internet – appear even stranger. It really is like a fever dream that you would rather forget. And you could, quite easily, if it wasn’t for the fact that it has hollowed out one of the most astute and acclaimed plays of the 20th century. Every nuance is gone, every thought-provoking critique and eerie hint is torpedoed for the sake of multi-coloured fluff. Quite why the makers needed to call it ‘An Inspector Calls’ or try and follow the story is anyone’s guess; as adaptations go, this is verging on a parody and I don’t imagine the author would have been too elated with what his social commentary has now become.