Category III Film, “Vulgaria,” Remains #1 in Hong Kong Box Office

Pang Ho Cheung’s (彭浩翔) low-budget category III film, Vulgaria <低俗喜劇>, has remained in the top spot at the Hong Kong box office since its low-profile release on August 9, 2012.

Vulgaria, starring Chapman To (杜汶澤) and Ronald Cheng (鄭中基), is a sex comedy film that tells the story of a struggling movie producer who is forced to remake a new version of the soft porn film, Confessions of a Concubine <宮人我要>, after a triad leader agreed to invest in his films. It was reported that 90% of the dialogue in the film is marked by foul language, in which Pang Ho Cheung used as a device to add more “realism” to the wild scenarios presented in the movie. Vulgaria took a little less than three weeks to film the entire movie, and less than a month for Pang Ho Cheung to finish its post-production.

Despite the lack of promotion and its Category III status, Vulgaria has maintained its #1 status in the Hong Kong box office. Since its release on August 9, Vulgaria has earned a total of $11.9 million HKD from 36 locations, more than four times the gross of Hong Kong and China co-produced blockbuster, The Silent War <聽風者>, which debuted in Hong Kong at the same time as Vulgaria. Despite its success in mainland China and frequent promotions in Hong Kong, The Silent War underperformed at the box office and only earned $2.9 million HKD.

Other blockbuster films, such as Hollywood’s Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, The Bourne Legacy, and The Dark Knight Rises, were also overshadowed by Vulgaria’s success in Hong Kong.

“The Silent War” is Predictable

The Silent War’s failure in the Hong Kong box office was unexpected. The Silent War stars box office darlings, Tony Leung (梁朝偉) and Zhou Xun (周迅).  The espionage thriller is directed by Alan Mak (麥兆輝) and Felix Chong (莊文強), the creators behind the highly acclaimed and popular Infernal Affairs <無間道> film series. Infernal Affairs broke many box office records during its theatrical run in Hong Kong in 2002, and many critics claimed that it was this film franchise that revived Hong Kong’s dying film industry.

Alan Mak and Felix Chong’s second collaborative effort, 2009’s Overheard <竊聽風雲>, also drew in large attendance records in Hong Kong. Although its sequel, Overheard 2 <竊聽風雲2>, performed slightly poorer than its predecessor, it earned enough at the box office to offset its production costs.

So why did The Silent War fail at the Hong Kong box office? Although the film is visually impressive, many critics thought the movie lacked suspense with underwhelming action sequences. The story of The Silent War, which depicts the battles between the spies of China’s Communist Party battling the Kuomintang – and with the Communist spies winning in the end – also disgruntled many Hong Kong viewers, scoffing the movie as predictable and unexciting.

However, in mainland China, The Silent War earned great success. Since its debut in August 9, the film has earned over $200 million RMB in the mainland Chinese box office, becoming one of China’s most successful summer blockbusters of the year.


This article is written by Addy for

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  1. With a name like Vulgaria, can we ever expect perhaps a HK film award? No? Just as I suspected! Hk cinema, still hitting the new low. Who wrote Infernal Affairs? We need another such magic!

    A pity. Chapman To and Ronald Cheng are 2 seriously funny guys who can certainly make bona fide comedy without resorting to sex and vulgarities. Stephen Chow, Micheal Hui, HK needs you!

    1. Funn,
      Sex is one of those “universally relatable” things that can be a subject of endless jokes.

      The American stand-up comedy shows here are usually filled with sex and race jokes and foul language. 90% of the stand-up comedy shows I have seen are filled with these type of jokes.

      Apparently, a clean joke is really difficult to tell. Or rather not enough shock value to jolt and make you laugh nervously. Much praise to Jerry Seinfeld and Dayo Wong. Does Dayo ever resort to vulgar humor in his stand up comedy shows?

      1. Jerry Seinfeld, very funny. Did you watch London Olympics opening? Rowan Atkinson was the funniest and not one crude joke. He did do some for his stand up comedy but it was more funny than crude.

        Dayo Wong.. maybe he has but on a more tasteful level. Comediens must have all at least talked about sex once in their routine. I love Omid Djalili and even he talked about sex but it depends on the level of vulgarity I suppose.

        But what is vulgar humour though? I know it when I am confronted with it but to describe it is difficult.

        But at least the title is interesting. Vulgaria… definitely banned in Malaysia.

    2. Funn,
      The high profit margins of “Vulgaria” will likely result in a sequel and copycat films.

      Actually, the humor in Wong Jing’s movies is very crude as well. But men don’t seem to mind, as women are more sensitive to foul language.

      I hate “Family Guy” and its crudity. But many people find it funny. This may be the case for “Vulgaria.”

      1. I was looking at Korean films, and I realise most korean actresses and the guys with hot bods strip and do some serious scenes with well you know what subject. The movie I hated and find distasteful is Old Boy but it is critically acclaimed. I find it vulgar not on vulgar level but on a different level of vulgarity. They also pushed the level in terms of the line between what’s right and what shouldn’t be depicted. Recently seen a film where it was about children being abused sexually and it was an interesting movie, except the director filmed the sexual abuse with children; one old actor gently scrubbing the body of a very naked young boy, a rape scene, etc. Some things should be left at suggestions and not depicted. Of course some will hail that as master storytelling, award winning stuff, but for me the line of what should be filmed and what doesn’t need to be filmed has been crossed and so make the director seems fixated on the subject and by showing so much, did not in my opinion help with understanding the issue but rather paedophiles will love a copy of the uncensored movie. I feel strongly about such depictions and a good storyteller need not show so much to tell a good story. Unfortunately film makers nowadays is probably confused between how to tell a good story and how to show a good story.

        Anyway just read Tony Scott killed himself. Why? WHY?!

      2. Family Guy is annoying… watch American Dad instead if you want a little more “high brow” humour in the same line.

        Futurama is my favourite “adult” north american anime.

  2. i wanna watch tht.. nt surprising with its name vulgaria i xpct it to reach higher heights..

  3. Mainland and Hong Kong audiences appear to have distinct tastes in their entertainment. Period dramas are extremely popular in mainland China, while Hong Kong’s audience may be more westernized and prefer stories set in modern times.

    “Vulgaria” is heavy in Hong Kong flavor (likely utilizing eye-popping new Cantonese phrases) and would be difficult to understand except for the fluent Cantonese audience.

    1. Agree. I know the collaboration films are good, in script and other stuff, but sometimes, they lack of the comedy part. The funny comedy part where it is so hard to find nowdays in the film

  4. “So why did The Silent War fail at the Hong Kong box office?”

    Different market, different needs? Perhaps the Silent War is more fitting/tailored to Mainland as target market in general.

    1. Obviously because it is a serious movie and box office rarely likes serious depressing movies. I understand why Vulgaria is a hit but doesn’t mean I can’t rant about the state of HK cinema.

      1. uhm. hope u didn’t feel addressed by my comment. it was merely a response on the article itself.

  5. I’m guessing none of you have really watched Edmond Pang’s movies. He’s nothing like Wong Jing at all. Don’t generalize if you haven’t seen his work.

  6. Is category 3 the equivalent of a R rating in the US? There’s a lot of American comedies that are Rated R that are pretty funny so I guess it’s not that surprising it does well.

    90% foul language though? I’m not a prude but that seems over the top.

      1. Oh.. interesting.
        I associate NC-17 with porn so I’m guessing there are a lot of graphic scenes in this?

      2. I’ve never seen Love in the Puff… why did it get a Category III rating?

        NC-17 and Category III have similar requirements. For NC-17, no one under 17 can be admitted to watch, while for Cat III, no one under 18 is admitted. As for HOW the movies got those ratings, it’s a completely different story.

      3. @ Addy

        Most probably the dialogue. I don’t remember any sex scene or violent scene in ‘Love in a Puff’.

  7. The name of Pang Ho Cheung alone makes me want to watch Vulgaria.

  8. I’m guessing that with the economic and work pressures of today, people in HK would opt to unwind with a comedy instead of a serious film.

  9. Who is that actress is she from the mainland or Hong Kong I would tap her

  10. Watch “The Silent War” the another night and it was much better than I expected. Tony acted as a comic relief in the beginng and Xun Zhou was simply great in her role.

    On a side note I think Gan TingTing had a 2 min role in this movie as well or someone that looks like her.

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