“Table for Six” is Back With a Chinese New Year Sequel

Last year, the courtroom drama A Guilty Conscience, starring Dayo Wong Chi-wah, made headlines for becoming Hong Kong’s biggest grossing local film ever, earning HK$115 million and giving the industry a much needed shot in the arm. As that film’s director Jack Ng Wai-lun has theorised, Conscience was at the right place at the right time, released during the lunar new year holidays — traditionally the busiest season at the cinemas in Hong Kong — and the first after pandemic restrictions were lifted.

table for six

Peter Chan, Ivana Wong, Louis Cheung, Stephy Tang, Dayo Wong and Lin Min-chen are the original dinner party in 2022’s Table for Six

The excitement surrounding Conscience overshadowed Sunny Chan Wing-sun’s own box office hit, Table for Six. Originally slated for release during the 2022 lunar new year, a fifth Covid wave and resulting theatre closures pushed its release, ultimately, to that year’s Mid-Autumn Festival. Contrary to popular belief, Chan and his crew made very few changes to the film to better pitch it to Mid-Autumn, only tinkering with a few lines of dialogue during Chinese New Year dinners that were transformed, via overdubbing, into Mid-Autumn dinners. With theatres reopened but capacity restrictions still in place, Table for Six racked up HK$80 million, making it the year’s fourth biggest hit.In that film, comedian Dayo Wong played Steve, a photographer and the oldest of three sons still living in the partially residential, partially commercial warehouse flat their parents own, and from which they run a char siu shop. The dramedy followed Steve, as he tries to corral the younger brothers he felt were slipping away, Bernard (Louis Cheung Kai-chung, The Narrow Road) and Lung (Peter Chan Charm-man, Three Husbands, In Broad Daylight). He hopes to reconnect at the family’s Mid-Autumn dinners, to which Bernard invites his girlfriend Monica (Stephy Tang Lai-yan, My Prince Edward), and Lung invites his on-and-off budding chef girlfriend Josephine (Ivana Wong Yuen-chi, One More Chance). Trouble starts when Monica shows up and Steve discovers she’s an old flame of his. Trying to find even footing, Steve invites a much younger social media influencer, Meow (Lin Min-chen) as his date. 

The way Chan writes and directs, Table for Six is an almost farcical family drama about emotional failure, complicated relationships, and the eternal burden — and comfort — that is family. The film toggles between uproariously funny and bittersweet, but never cloyingly so. That mix worked with audiences, many of whom were disconnected form their own families in 2022. And so back on schedule for this latest lunar new year is Table for Six 2 (飯戲攻心2), a sequel that surprises no one, but which started percolating long before the receipts started coming in; Edko boss Bill Kong thought there were at least two parts to the story. 

“I was of course delighted,” says Chan. “Growing up with Steven Spielberg’s work, we all understand the joy of a series or saga.” Though the possibility of a sequel was there, Chan, who’s also worked in theatre adapting his film as well as a musical about Sun Yat-sen, focused on creating a complete movie, free of open endings and dangling threads and a full character arc for the protagonist: Steve. At the end of Table for Six, “The other siblings’ emotions have yet to be validated,” says Chan. “I thought it might be interesting to challenge their feelings and values and further explore those characters.”

Which is exactly what happens in Table for Six 2, partially because that was where Chan was heading and partially because star Wong did not return to the fold. As the emotional and narrative anchor of the story, Wong’s absence leaves an enormous hole to fill, but Chan opted to “embrace this creative kismet” rather than fret over it.

“I’m a believer in fate, especially in the past few years, and especially when it involves creating,” he says. “When you get something, you might lose something. And when you lose something, it might lead you to something else. I started thinking about [the brothers] facing the absence of an important family member head on, during a key moment in their lives: weddings. What will happen, what will they do to lead the family. In the first movie, the two younger brothers were relatively selfish and wanted to move out, but this time around they’re in position to take responsibility for the family. I think that naturally leads to interesting drama.”

Table for Six 2 picks up with Monica and Bernard, and Josephine and Lung planning their respective weddings. At the same time, Steve’s eventual partner Meow is trying to figure out her place within the family, and whether or not she even has one. She’s not related to anyone, and her connection to the family has disappeared (he’s working in Africa). The focus on a pair of weddings for the sequel ratchets up the kind of goofy comedy the first film steered well away from, and takes the visuals from low-key to ultra-glossy. The film also expands thematically, as the idea that family is who we chose it to be hovers in the margins. The cast starts to sprawl as well, as other family members descend on the couples with their own peculiar expectations. 

Finally, the film features a slew of popular performers in small roles or cameos: Ng Wing-sze (Mad Fate), singer Jeffrey Ngai Tsun-sung, Jennifer Yu Heung-ying and Wu Fung (In Broad Daylight), Renci Yeung Si-wing (The First Girl I Loved), Tse Kwan-ho (Drifting, Hong Kong Family), Tony Wu Tsz-tung (Elisa’s Day, Septet), Error’s Ho Kai-wa, Fish Liew (Anita) returning as the ghost of the brothers’ mother, and the legendary Helena Law Lan. Table for Six 2 is the image of a lunar new year movie in that sense, though it dispenses with the usual bells, whistles and songs of the sub-genre, and is something of a radical tonal departure from the first. That’s how Chan wanted it. “For sequels, I think it’s best to find a continuation in the movie’s spirit and the dramatism, or theatricality, of the characters,” he says. “If it’s too similar, I worry that it will be repetitive, and I try to avoid repeating myself in my creative work. And audiences are unlikely to want to watch the same movie twice.” 

Chan notes that the previous movie involved five meals in one house, while the sequel focuses on three weddings. “I really like the symmetry of specific times and spaces in this way of storytelling,” he says. “The costumes are more elaborate as it’s the most important day in one’s life after all. There are a lot more side characters. A lot of scenes happen on stages; the tone of delivery is very different when speaking to a room of a hundred something rather than a table of six. The energy level is much higher, and I like this contrast. Running through both movies is the spirit of the family, which is something that I cherish and will not touch.” In between the more typically comedic antics are the moments that had the most impact in 2022, when Cheung, Tang, Wong, Chan and Lin get to interrogate who they are, and it’s in these sequences the film is at its strongest and most affecting. 

Whether Table for Six 2 resonates the same way the first film did remains to be seen, but the question must be asked: will there be a third? There are no plans to make Six into a trilogy right now, but as Chan puts it, “I do think the family is a lot of fun and worth further exploration. But we need some time in between.” So much upheaval and growth in such a short span of time is a lot for anyone to deal with — real or fictional — and from a character standpoint, Chan believes another set of dramas would feel forced. If there is a third film in the cards, it won’t be for a while. “It’s best for the creative process as well as actors’ performances to give the characters some space and time to mature before thinking of another movie.”

Table for Six 2 opens on February 9, 2024.

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