Nine Girls and a Ghost (九個女仔一隻鬼)

The good news is that this movie is not the cesspool of awful I long imagined it to be. For a few fleeting moments, I was mildly charmed, and I can at least excuse the teen lot for wanting to see their favorite “singers/actors” projected on a very large screen. Of course the bad news is that the movie is longer than those few moments, and I’m no longer a lovestruck adolescent. Nevertheless, I managed to power through this tour de farce starring lead Cookie Stephy Tang as Kaka, a supremely spoiled brat who sweet talks her father into buying her a Mini Cooper. She soon discovers that it’s haunted, but luckily the ghost looks like Edison Chen – and he literally bubbles out of the exhaust pipe. Kaka quickly makes the most of her supernatural friend and uses him for all sorts of unscrupulous schemes, including cheating on an exam and in a basketball game. She and her friends later enlist him in taking down their PE teacher as well, but thankfully, this is a ghost with a conscience. It turns out that Marco, as our spirit is called, used to be a dickish executive who excelled in two things, making money and making people feel miserable, before crashing to his premature death. He therefore wants to help Kaka and her cookie crumbs formulate some moral code so that they become a touch more virtuous and learn how to rely on their own talents and hard work.

That’s right – one of the takeaways of this movie is that Edison Chen/Marco is a civilizing influence on young girls. This may be the only lesson though. While the movie flirts with character development, the overall effort is too inconsistent to elicit any sympathy. Instead, the overriding emotion is more akin to agony. Hong Kong girls seriously need a new publicity manager because films like this one are not doing them any favors. The whole box of Cookies is insufferable. They lie, cheat, and blackmail their way through life; they are selfish, disrespectful, and manipulative, even towards their own family. Kaka gets bonus points for taking advantage of her philandering father and verbally abusing her stuttering older brother (Cyrus Wong). My problem is not so much the absurdities of a teenage imagination nor am I suggesting that Hong Kong cinema whitewash all these characters into immaculate, obedient girls. But surely the constant and mind-numbing drumbeat of this snippy adolescent female stereotype cannot be what even the target audience wants. I am willing to tolerate some degree of bad acting and can step over a few gaping plot holes, both of which this movie offers in abundance, but my little Hong Kong heart dies a bit every time a young female character spends most of her screen time whining in near dog decibels. Sure, Hollywood spits out similar tales by the dozen, but theirs is a much bigger market for mediocrity, and relatively (key word) far more alternative voices and images find their way into the media.

Released: 2002/Reviewed: 2012