Anthony ChanManfred WongMeg LamLawrence Cheng
Carry On Doctors and Nurses
Medium: film
Year: 1985
Director: Anthony Chan
Writer: Alfred Cheung, Keith Wong, Manfred Wong
Keywords: Not officially a Carry On, comedy
Language: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Actor: Alfred Cheung, Meg Lam, Sau-Man Chan, Manfred Wong, Lawrence Cheng, Kenny Bee, Anthony Chan, Lok Man Chan, Wai-Man Chan, Yuen Chor, Wai Man Chun, Paul Chung Bo-Law, Chia-li Ho, Keith Kwan, Sandy Lam, David Lo, Suk Yee Ng, Kei Shu, Tin Nam Tam, Yat Ching Tam, Pui-Ling Yau, Danny Yip
Format: 88 minutes
Website category: Asian
Review date: 20 June 2013
It's a Hong Kong Carry On film from 1985. It's not right, but it's not too bad either.
It's not an official Carry On film, of course. I'd never heard of it. However it is apparently a deliberate attempt to make something a bit like a Carry On film, albeit a decade late. Carry On Emmannuelle had been in 1978, while Carry On Columbus wouldn't happen until 1992. This Hong Kong version doesn't come across as particularly Carry On-ish, to be honest, but it made me laugh and I can imagine worse attempts at fitting into the franchise. Emmannuelle and Columbus spring to mind, for instance.
That said, there are plenty of Hong Kong films with "Carry On" in their titles that have nothing to do with the British Carry On franchise. Carry On Con Men is simply a sequel to Two Con Men and sounds even more off-putting than Carry On Pickpocket. I won't be watching those. Carry On Wise Guy is a martial arts flick with the Japanese army as baddies. Carry On Hotel at least is the right genre, but as far as I can tell it's just a standard 1980s Hong Kong comedy.
This on the other hand is trying to be the real deal. Stuff that's recognisably Carry On-ish:
(a) The music. This is the only element that you might have noticed for yourself.
(b) The comedic set-up. We're in a hospital, which was a favourite Carry On setting. The nurses are cute, while the interns are incompetent and lecherous. There's a brainless head doctor (Anthony Chan as Kenneth Williams) and a domineering head nurse who's been given the job of turning this into an efficient hospital (Meg Lam as Hattie Jacques). There's even a scene where Lam thinks she's been sexually propositioned by Chan and starts indulging her fantasies when (she thinks) she's not being watched.
(c) It's funny! Admittedly the comedy is blacker than you'd expect from a Carry On, but at least it's not flat-out disturbing as with the lower end of that series (Henry, Camping, etc.) Generally speaking, the tone's at least in the approximate ballpark. Interns play goofy pranks and chase girls. A man dresses up in a female nurse's uniform. There are fart jokes and people taking their clothes off, but they always keep their underwear on and there's no actual nudity. There are silly misunderstandings. In short, it's trying to be light-hearted episodic fluff with only the loosest of plots.
"You're useless! I'll hire you."
That's the touchstone, I think. If a comedy isn't funny, it's a failure. This isn't a great film and its jokes are capable of misfiring, but it did indeed get laughs from me and so I have to give it a thumbs up rather than the opposite. Chan's masectomy misunderstanding is funny, for instance. Their best comedy material though comes from cruelty to patients. (This sounds horrible, but it's true. It's also capable of being brilliant in any culture. Airplane does it, for instance.) Anyway, we're told right at the beginning that our four heroes have as many patients in the morgue as on the wards, which the film pursues with more zest than I'd expected. Bad things happen to people in wheelchairs. One poor bugger ends up having donated almost his entire body and five litres of blood. Chan does something terrible to someone's eardrum when she'd wanted gynaecological attention, which strikes me as a scary thing for the film to do as a result of a misunderstanding.
It's a cruel film, I think. The real Carry Ons could be even more cruel, I think, but in a different way. However it's also a flippant, playful kind of cruelty that mostly stays on the right side of the "disturbing vs. funny" line. The evil twin brother who's got out of prison and likes cutting people up, for instance, doesn't turn out as you'd expect at all. The throwaway electrocution is a laugh. Someone's lung being put into soup in the hospital canteen... okay, that made me blink, but you can't deny that it gives the film personality.
The main difference between this film and the Carry Ons, I think, is the cast. The Carry Ons were always actor-led. Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey... I could go on and on. Obviously none of those are here, but more importantly they're not even here in spirit. No one's larger than life. No one's camping it up rotten. Meg Lam comes the nearest and I could imagine Hattie Jacques doing great things with her role, but she's not really eccentric or colourful. She's fine, though. I liked her. She does the job, except (for me) in the scene where she's trying to give hell to those four Chinese doctors and she doesn't have it in her to be scary enough.
Apart from her, though, there's no one. No one's stealing scenes. No one's flamboyantly camp, even the lynchpin of the Carry Ons had always been their outrageous homosexual stars. Hardly anyone even stands out, to be honest. There's a guy who looks like a Chinese Rondo Hatton, but he's little more than a cameo. Anthony Chan is fine, but he's basically playing the role straight and there's no comparison whatsoever between him and Kenneth Williams. However more startling still is the fact that the nurses and interns don't really have individual identities, but instead go around in groups of four and are treated as such for plot purposes. There are the Four Pretty Nurses, the Four Lecherous Interns and their Four Handsome Rivals. It took me a while even to be able to tell them apart. This is fine. It works. However it's clearly a point of difference.
The Four Lecherous Interns aren't Chinese, by the way. They're from other Commonwealth countries and one of them's a Westerner, although they all speak Cantonese.
There are more up-to-date film references too, though. I think there's a Policy Academy influence, subtly acknowledged in the music, while at one point our heroes dress up as Ghostbusters. Both of those films came out the year before this, 1984.
Overall, quite good. It's not a big deal and it's not worth knocking yourself out over, but it made me laugh. It's a bit sharper than I'd expected, with that cruel edge and other bits that took me aback, like the camera in Meg Lam's room when she's undressing. Occasionally it does embarrassment comedy. You might even get slightly queasy at the medical frivolities at the finale. However it's a good-natured, pleasant bit of nonsense that gets closer than you'd think to its peculiar-sounding goal of being a Carry On film. (I might have been misinformed, mind you, in which case this entire review is rubbish.) They don't have comedians who can dial it up to eleven... in fact, I don't know if the cast would even call themselves comedians. However it's okay and it made me laugh.
"Let her go! Rape me!"
"No, rape him!"