For a film with such a curious central concept (a 3D musical based in the world of high finance) and remarkable talent involved, it’s surprising director Johnnie To and playwright turned screenwriter Sylvia Chang’s adaptation appears so tousled, hollow and inebriated. To crafts a swirling expedition through the frenzied, pecuniary backdrop of a Chinese finance firm, with matchless energy and vivacious visuals, blending corporate art and clerical steam-punk within a tense company setting. But the sprawling narrative and mad plethora of characters leave the viewer perplexed, lost and indifferent to the dazzling theatrics.

Based on Chang’s theatre production “Design for Living”, Office is set during the turbulent tussles of the 2008 economic crash, as the once thriving trade organisation Jones & Sunn struggles to maintain its place in the trembling market. Relationships between colleagues are tense and tested while the workplace grows gradually more unstable: the company is about to go public and the account auditors are on the case. Meanwhile, enthusiastic new employee Lee Xiang (Wang Ziyi) befriends diffident colleague Kat (Lang Yueting) and slowly starts falling in love, but his interest (and their story) wanes when the possibility of promotion arises and Lee disregards Kat to focus on professional growth. Elsewhere, colleagues blackmail, conceal identities, mask ulterior motives and massage figures to keep things afloat. Gossip soon erupts and staff resign, leaving the precarious organisation in an even more perilous position.

Office unravels with the tumultuous fury of a Busby Berkeley hurricane but at an almost extraneous level that doesn’t distract from the lack of emotional substance. Despite featuring some likeable characters and arcs, the story fails to ring linear while some of the interesting roles and strands get lost within the zigzag plotting. Corporate stats and facts are interwoven with terminologies which imbues the story with clout, ensuring the business world in which Office operates is credible and convincing. But essential humanity gets buried beneath the mechanics, the abundance of detail and the shimmering dance anarchy that twists the plotting out of orbit like a mad drunk at a Christmas party.

While you may find your foot tapping during a couple of the catchier numbers, most of Office’s songs are forgettable. It is amusing to see characters belt their hearts out about the cold lure of materialism, the value of brands and the naive determination to succeed within their profession but Office is a predominantly cluttered production about mechanically mannered professionals driven by money and power. Writer Chang injects significant oomph into her supporting role as company CEO Winnie and Ziyi and Yueting are winning in the leads, but too many characters and strands are built then buried in favour of big, gaudy dance sequences, most of which lack the tunes to be catchy and the heart to truly strike a chord.

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Daniel Goodwin
Daniel Goodwin is a prevalent film writer for multiple websites including HeyUGuys, Scream Horror Magazine, Little White Lies, i-D and Dazed. After studying Film, Media and Cultural Studies at university and Creative Writing at the London School of Journalism, Daniel went on to work in TV production for Hat Trick Productions, So Television and The London Studios. He has also worked at the Home Office, in the private office of Hilary Benn MP and the Coroner's and Burials Department, as well as on the Movies on Pay TV market investigation for the Competition Commission.
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