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Showbiz Spy movie review: Anson Lo of Hong Kong boy band Mirror challenges gender norms in harmlessly diverting entertainment satire

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 25/11/2021
  • The boy band member portrays an investigator who goes undercover as a woman to infiltrate an exploitative reality-TV contest for wannabe pop stars
  • The irony, of course, is that the film satirises the kind of contest that produced Mirror and its protagonist is played by one of the system's biggest winners

2.5/5 stars

Showbiz Spy is a pop-idol vehicle ostensibly churned out to make a quick buck off of Anson Lo Hon-ting, the Mirror boy band member who became a superstar overnight in Hong Kong this year by appearing in the gay romcom series Ossan's Love on ViuTV.

Frivolous yet harmlessly diverting, Showbiz Spy makes a half-hearted attempt at satiring the star-making system through which Lo and his band mates achieved their meteoric rise in the first place.

We never learn the real name of Lo's character in Showbiz Spy, which opens with an uncomfortable scene in which he pretends to be a schoolboy to tease out the predatory behaviour of a rich, gay photography enthusiast.

The protagonist, we learn, is working for a non-profit organisation named the "International Association for the Physical and Mental Health Development of Underage Boys and Girls", whose long title is the gag.

Its mission sees Lo disguise himself as a girl named Cercis - doesn't the International Association ... have any female employees? - to infiltrate a reality show similar in nature to ViuTV's King Maker, except that this fictional one, created by Andrew Lam Man-chung's sinister mastermind, exploits its participants by charging exorbitant training and styling fees. For some reason, it only takes girl contestants.

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Joining Cercis along the way are reporter Helianthus (Chloe So Ho-yee) and failed singer Lilium (Heidi Lee Ching-yee), who share Cercis' mission to expose the talent show's dirty secrets, even if they also can't stop dreaming about getting famous.

They are soon joined by wannabe starlet Circle (Summer Chan Tsz-huen) and her older cousin Oval (Alina Lee Yan-yee), who comes to get Circle out before she bankrupts her family.

Far more compelling than this plotline is the inadvertent yardstick the movie will set in the rapidly evolving gender politics of Hong Kong popular culture. Lo may be known for his androgynous makeup, and has been accepted by fans as a gay man after a past affair came to light in the tabloids, but it still takes a huge suspension of disbelief to watch him flawlessly pass himself off as a woman - while just being himself.

Any number of academic papers will be written about the way Cercis starts off adopting the image of a transgender woman, before simply turning up as the Lo we're all used to (but still as a woman).

While the film doesn't give Cercis a romantic subplot to complicate proceedings, it does present a conflicted view of Lo's sexuality, as when a male security guard insults Cercis by calling him a "sissy" but does so in an unmistakably feminine tone.

(From left) Chloe Lee, Anson Lo, Heidi Lee, Alina Lee and Summer Chan in a still from Showbiz Spy. © Provided by South China Morning Post (From left) Chloe Lee, Anson Lo, Heidi Lee, Alina Lee and Summer Chan in a still from Showbiz Spy.

The movie, written and directed by debutant Keian Chui Tze-yiu, features fleeting moments of commentary on the soul-crushing influence of this type of idol-making machine. But what do we know, anyway? One of the biggest stars to come out of this system is fronting the movie we're watching, and his stardom is so overwhelming we aren't even supposed to care that he is a man and a woman at the same time.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (, the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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