Eric Tsang Chi-Wai

Golden Chicken (金雞)

golden chicken

It’s not an ideal time to discover your walls are paper-thin when Sandra Ng, the titular golden chicken – or prostitute in common parlance, breaks out into yet another ecstatic and ostensibly faked moan. I felt it was my neighborly duty to have the mute button on ready in case things got a little too heated, or loud, though in honesty, I should have expected those shrill cries of ecstasy. Still, it’s not quite the Category III sex romp you might be picturing, and Golden Chicken falls on the funny side of the world’s oldest profession. It throws up a few cheap thrills to get the holiday audience laughing but also tries to find its dramatic footing as the film wears on.

The story begins in the present day, which is the tail end of 2002 and just before SARS hitteth the fan. When a power outage traps a broke Kam (Ng) (the Kam or Golden of the title) in an ATM booth with a would-be robber (Eric Tsang), she decides to pass the time by recounting her glorious exploits, and some of the not-so-glorious ones. What follows is a retrospective on twenty odd years of Hong Kong history through the eyes of an unprivileged observer.

A self-described ugly duckling who entered the industry at fifteen, Kam isn’t like the other prostitutes who rely on various physical assets to beguile the customers. Her trick is a spot-on imitation of Jackie Chan’s drunken fist kungfu, which she performs in a sparkling, bodice-hugging dress. As she rides the political and economic changes of the 1980s and 90s, her fortunes rise, then fall, with those of her financially well endowed clients. At one point Kam makes enough money to buy a flat that can accommodate a king sized bed, which is more than I can ever hope for.

But she also remarks on shifts in her line of her work that hint at greater social transformations – the advent of mobile phones and karaoke and more importantly the arrival of Mainland prostitutes. These observations don’t generally serve as a broader social critique; however, the film does slip in some commentary on the indomitable Hong Kong spirit. Ever resourceful Kam never gives up – and never moves up – but keeps on trucking despite the hard times, of which there are many.

Most of her disappointments are in personal relationships, not just with the people she is around but also in their absence. The film is strongest when Kam gets the chance to develop something more lasting than a quick sexual encounter. It’s funny when a bespectacled Eason Chan, the first in a strong line of cameos, shows up as a timid loner and asks Kam to service him in the manner of his ex-girlfriend, but that encounter is more for the novelty of seeing the two actors get frisky in the shower.

The better interactions occur later on, between Kam and nice guy Richard (Felix Wong) and then moody gangster Yeh (Hu Jun). These give both Kam and the story more weight. At one point, she is burdened with an unwanted pregnancy and later, she simply feels like a worn woman. Unfortunately, every time the film begins to settle down, it always recalibrates, bouncing to the next client and/or period in history. It’s easy to lose interest, as I did, when there’s little except the force of Ng’s personality to tie Kam’s life together. The overarching narrative seems to be Kam’s quest to secure her next paycheck, and hopefully a big one. For better, the film doesn’t try to excuse her chosen profession but it also doesn’t do much to explore it, thus lessening the impact of its more emotional moments.

Released: 2002
Prod: Peter Chan 陳可辛; Jojo Hui 許月珍
Dir: Samson Chiu 趙良駿
Writer: Matt Chow 鄒凱光; Samson Chiu 趙良駿
Cast: Sandra Ng 吳君如; Eric Tsang 曾志偉, Andy Lau 劉德華; Tony Leung Ka-Fai 梁家輝; Hu Jun 胡軍; Eason Chan 陳奕迅; Alfred Cheung 張堅庭; Chapman To 杜汶澤; Felix Wong 黃日華; Tiffany Lee 李蘢怡; Crystal Tin 田蕊妮
Time: 106 min
Lang: Cantonese, some Mandarin
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2015

Men Suddenly in Black (大丈夫)

men suddenly in black

Tales of extramarital escapades carry a decidedly sexist bent in Hong Kong. Many, though not all, depict men who are just out for some fun and who don’t need harpy wives lording over their natural right to get a little bit of ass. It’s an effect of a film industry dominated by men, a situation that doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions to the rule, and Edmond Pang’s comedy shows an alternative direction for Hong Kong cinema. While it doesn’t escape cheap shots at women from time to time, the net result is a fresh and fun take on a boys’ night out.

A major reason is its genre influence. More a send-up of triad films than a generic husband and wife catch-me-if-you-can, Men Suddenly in Black largely overlooks the tetchy issues of love. To be sure, there are promises of romance, and naïve newlywed Ching (Marsha Yuen) clings the most to the fiction of her husband’s gallantry, but distilled, this film plays out like a typical gangster film. Loyalty and brotherhood reign supreme, and the four lads’ vows to each other are the most sacred.

The quartet, Tin (Eric Tsang), Cheung (Jordan Chan), Chau (Chapman To), and Paul (Spirit Blue), are determined to get out and get laid, but it’s clear from the start that this is no ordinary romp. Years in the planning, their meticulous precautions resemble an illegal drugs operation – disposable mobiles, wads of cash, undercover vehicle. They even send their wives (Teresa Mo, Candy Lo, Tiffany Li, Yuen) on a 12-hour getaway to Thailand for extra insurance. Their day is rolled out in three stages, beginning with hookups with old flings, then another chance to get lucky at an internet café, and finally a penthouse party where it’s raining condoms.

The four have contrived excuses for cheating, but the memory of their fallen brother, Uncle Nine (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) ends up being their main motivation. Lionized for his sacrifice during a raucous boys’ night, he is as good as dead, having languished under house arrest since the 80s. His strong-willed wife (Sandra Ng) ensures that he is deprived of all carnal pleasures until he ‘fesses up and starts naming names. The guys reason that giving up on their mission would be dishonoring Brother Nine’s sacrifice, so they have no choice but to philander on.

The triads versus cops mentality does several things for the film, one of which is casting the women as equal players in the game. While the men are busy trying to outwit their partners and are knowingly on the wrong side of the law, the wives show how effective they can be when they know they are being played. Even if romance is ignored, marriage vows are not, and the women prove just as calculating. Their ferocity is not the cause of their husbands’ infidelities but the one tool they have, short of divorce, to deal with it.

Pang also manages to turn cliché moments into highly stylized and humorous scenes, with able help from a willing cast. Thinking their wives are onto them, the men’s routine escape from a seedy joint becomes an all water pistols blazing shootout. Uncle Nine’s bleak existence also draws laughs because of how closely it mimics the imprisoned but resolute triad trope. For the most part, the language of brotherhood that the director employs lends itself to comedy in smart, appealing ways without resorting to bawdy, sexist jokes, at least most of the time. There’s a lazy gag about Tin’s ex (Maria Cordero) who experiences the ugly duckling and beautiful swan transformation in reverse, and the same story gives actor Tsang a disturbing chance to make out with a teenage character. Nevertheless, the film is still smarter and funnier than similar ventures.

Released: 2003
Prod: Eric Tsang 曾志偉
Dir: Edmond Pang 彭浩翔
Writer: Edmond Pang 彭浩翔; Patrick Kong 葉念琛; Erica Li 李敏
Cast: Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Jordan Chan 陳小春; Chapman To 杜汶澤; Spirit Blue 賈宗超; Teresa Mo 毛舜筠; Candy Lo 盧巧音; Tiffany Lee 李蘢怡; Marsha Yuen 原子鏸; Tony Leung Ka-Fai 梁家輝; Sandra Ng 吳君如; Maria Cordero 瑪利亞; Nat Chan 陳百祥; Donna Chu 朱潔儀; Jim Chim 詹瑞文; Lam Suet 林雪; Stephanie Che 車婉婉; Eric Kot 葛民輝; Annabelle Lau 劉曉彤
Time: 99 min
Lang: Cantonese, some Mandarin
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2015

Kung Fu Dunk (功夫灌籃)

kung fu dunk

Jay Chou, kungfu, and basketball sound like decent ingredients for a fun if not exactly award-winning film. But that doesn’t turn out to be the case, and in fact, a high school basketball match in a musty gym has more heart and drama than this turkey. Filmmakers fail to turn its star’s oft-professed love for kungfu and basketball into a coherent fantasy, and it’s shameful how flagrantly it ends up violating all rules of good storytelling.

Chou features as the Shijie the Basketball Orphan, abandoned near a basketball court and raised in a kungfu school. He’s an extremely capable student, so much so that he gets locked out one night for showing up a teacher. An encounter with Zhen Li (Eric Tsang) leads him to a club where the pair ends up conning their way through a darts game. That results in a massive fight, and in a matter of 24 hours, Shijie is again kicked out of the school, this time for good.

Zhen Li won’t let any harm come to his new friend though. Having discovered his talent for accurately throwing any object from any distance, he dreams up another con. He enrolls Shijie into First University and hopes to make bank, presumably as agent to this sure superstar. (There are no NCAA regulations to be broken here.)

But Shijie must get through a few hurdles before he can burst onto the collegiate scene, including a one-on-one with the team captain, Ding Wei (Bolin Chen). It’s the first, and last, climactic encounter of the film, and that’s because the remaining matches never really build up to anything. Even the classic showdown that ends the film, wherein Shijie’s former teachers come to his aid, is so absurd and not in keeping with any actual basketball rules that it feels like someone’s cheating. With no sense of league structure or standards to ensure fair competition, there’s little tension or consequence.

This lack of a discernable athletic goal creates an obvious dramatic vacuum that the writers try to fill various subplots. Ding Wei turns out to be a boozy star while his sister (Charlene Choi) is the chipper groupie who’s crushing on the team’s other brooding stud, who only has room in his heart for his dead girlfriend. A better storyline that isn’t pursued with much vigor but that might have been more rewarding is Shijie’s father-son relationship with Zhen Li. But this is also an afterthought, given undue and confusing attention at the end of the film but not throughout. The writers try to convince the audience that Zhen Li really cares for his friend when exploitation seems closer to the truth.

For once, Chou’s presence doesn’t help much. Surprisingly bland in this role, though more the fault of the lifeless script, he fails to give shape to his quiet character, something he’s managed to do in previous films and even music videos. One would expect that the action would make up for these plot and character deficits, but the kungfu and basketball sequences prove less than stunning. Aside from a legitimate fight at the beginning of the movie, the action consists mostly of high wire jumping and dunking. Chou gets a few chances to show off his agility with the ball, but on the whole, the picture doesn’t earn its title.

“Master Chou” (周大侠) – theme song by Jay Chou:

Alt Title: 灌籃, Slam Dunk
Released: 2008
Prod: Yiu Kei-Wei 姚奇偉; Albert Lee 利雅博; Xu Pengle 許朋樂
Dir: Kevin Chu 朱延平
Action Dir: Tony Ching 程小東
Writer: Kevin Chu 朱延平; Lam Chiu-Wing 林超榮; Wang Youzhen 王宥蓁
Cast: Jay Chou 周杰倫; Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Charlene Choi 蔡卓妍; Bolin Chen 陳柏霖; Wang Gang 王剛; Ng Man-Tat 吳孟達; Baron Chen 陳楚河; Leung Kar-Yan 梁家仁; Eddy Ko 高雄; Kenneth Tsang 曾江; Liu Genghong 劉耕宏; Lee Lichun 李立群; Shaun Tam 譚俊彥
Time: 98 min
Lang: Mandarin/Cantonese
Country: Taiwan
Reviewed: 2015