Felix Wong Yat-Wah

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

City of SARS (非典人生)

City of SARS

City of SARS was made in the immediate aftermath of SARS, the respiratory illness that wreaked havoc on Hong Kong in 2003. Over ten years later, the effects of the outbreak are still felt, as evidenced by the city’s hypervigilance over disinfection and hygiene. A friend who visited recently was riding a crowded public bus when he committed the social faux pas of coughing without a mask and later remarked that he had never felt more like a leper.

As a movie, this one doesn’t have much to offer, and it is more interesting as a historical record and cultural byproduct of the period, giving its audience a sense of the chaos and desperation felt at the epidemic’s ground zero. It is framed almost like a war story, placing Hong Kong as a city under seige, only the enemy is an unseen disease with no known cure. The comparison offers similar moral dilemmas, ones that are vastly oversimplified here.

Instead, the audience is treated to clear ideas about heroism during this particular time of social confusion. The movie reads like an inspirational guidebook; this city of SARS, still shaken by the disastrous outbreak, is eagerly commemorating its martyrs and celebrating its fighting spirit. The film uses three short stories to delineate honorable behavior from the shameful and uncharitable.

The first is set in a hospital and involves a doctor and nurse who grapple with the altruistic demands of their profession against simple self-preservation. When the medical staff start succumbing to the disease, Dr. Chan (Patrick Tam) quickly asks for a transfer. His reasons for doing so are selfish and cowardly but equally natural and even dutiful. However, the complexity of “doing the right thing” doesn’t get a fair trial, least of all because his behavior is contrasted with that of Viola (Kristy Yeung), a nurse on her first day on the job. She is so transparently good, saying and doing all the right, and clichéd, things, that it’s hard to see this part of the movie as anything more than a cinematic thank you note to the fine doctors and nurses who helped Hong Kong through the epidemic.

The second act offers a more interesting story and dramatizes the quarantine of the residents of Amoy Gardens, a housing estate hit hardest by the outbreak. The incident may not have broken through the avalanche of news articles, but this episode gives insight into the ordinary lives of residents at the time. Serena Po plays Wendy, whose primary concern is that her lazy boyfriend treat her to a birthday dinner. Before he can find an excuse, she is evacuated to nearby quarters while her apartment complex is decontaminated. When she meets Henry (Edwin Siu), a happy-go-lucky guy amidst disquiet, she begins to get a handle on life. It’s Po who really brightens this piece, and the whole movie. The ex-Cookie turns out to be a far better actress than her baked brethren and gives her little part a lot of nuance.

These positive feelings aren’t carried over into the third act, however, which is a complete departure in tone. Starring Eric Tsang as an obnoxious businessman Boss Hung, it is a cartoonish comedy that feels almost mocking after two relatively somber stories. After the Boss suffers major financial losses due to SARS, he decides to stop the hemorrhaging by offing himself. This way, his sister (Sharon Chan) will avoid responsibility and retain some security. He decides, of course, that contracting SARS will be the most effective way to die, thus trivializing the rest of the movie to this point. The idea itself is curious and might work independently but not butted to the end of this anthology or starring a grating Tsang who hams it up.

Released: 2003
Prod: Ng Kin-Hung 伍健雄
Dir: Steve Cheng 鄭偉文
Writer: Edmond Wong 黃子桓; Mak Ho-Bon 麥浩邦; Kelvin Lee 李浩章
Cast: Patrick Tam 譚耀文; Kristy Yeung 楊恭如; Felix Wong 黃日華; Gabriel Harrison 海俊傑; Thomas Lam 林祖輝; Susan Tse 謝雪心; Wong Wan-Choi 黃允材; Edwin Siu 蕭正楠; Serena Po 蒲西兒; Amanda Lee 李蕙敏; Monica Lo 盧淑儀; Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Sharon Chan 陳敏之; Jerry Lamb 林曉峰; Chin Ka-Lok 錢嘉樂
Time: 95 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

I Love Hong Kong (我愛HK開心萬歲)

i love hk

I Love Hong Kong lives up to its title, showing great holiday affection for the city and the salt of the earth folks who live there. A respectable follow-up to the previous Chinese New Year’s hit 72 Tenants of Prosperity, this movie delivers a warmhearted message about community that comes wrapped in layers of laughter, nostalgia, and product placement. This TVB production is also top heavy with local television actors, but the station opts for true screen stars Tony Leung Ka-Fai and Sandra Ng to generate a hefty festive buzz.

Leung and Ng play parents to Ming (Aarif Lee), Chi (Mag Lam), and King (Chan Wing-Lam), and life is all fun and games until hard economic times brings big changes to their lives. Shun, a toy manufacturer, finds his factory shut down, so he decides to move the family back to the public housing estate where his father (Stanley Fung) still lives. But this ends up literally cramping everyone’s style.

Though Shun praises the virtues of being close to extended family and having trustworthy estate friends nearby, no one cares for this arrangement. Shun’s Wife (she doesn’t have a name but is simply known as ‘Shun’s wife’) escapes by returning to work at a beauty clinic, only to find herself demoted and taking orders from a haughty and much younger, taller, slimmer superior (Koni Lui). His son, a cog in the Food and Health Department machine, objects to living next to the stall owners he’s tasked with reprimanding, and even Shun’s father prefers having his flat to himself, where he has space enough for two TVs – a bigger one for TVB and a smaller one for that other station.

It’s Shun’s turn to feel upset though when his former friend Lung (Eric Tsang) reappears. He still holds a grudge from their youth after some funds went missing and wonders if Lung is just here to pull another scam or if he really wants to help out the struggling tenants. The power of flashback not only fleshes out their relationship and helps the audience appreciate the values of council estate living, it also gives a boatload of fresh faced TVB actors a chance to play younger versions of the characters (Bosco Wong as Shun, Wong Cho-Lam as Lung, Kate Tsui and Joyce Cheng as the bread store twins).

The gimmick aids plot development but also strengthens the message of Hong Kongers coming together to fight off the wealthy and corrupt, something we apparently did better thirty years ago. By the time the movie reaches its forced climax, you’ll be cheering on the small potatoes of this idyllic housing estate as they take on officials and developers who threaten their community and simple way of life. Hell, you might even want to live in a housing estate after you see their polished quarters. Zany side plots made funnier with a knowledge of Cantonese and Hong Kong gossip top off this stocking stuffer of a film, but the overall effort works regardless. It’s one you won’t mind revisiting next Chinese New Year’s.

“Always Friends” (始終都係朋友好) performed by the cast:

“I Love Hong Kong” performed by Aarif Lee and Mag Lam. Video not available but inspired by “Kowloon, Hong Kong” by the Reynettes:

Released: 2011
Prod: Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Jason Siu 邵劍秋
Dir: Chung Shu-Kai 鍾澍佳; Eric Tsang 曾志偉
Writer: Chung Shu-Kai 鍾澍佳; Helward Mak 麥曦茵; Wong Yeung-Tat 黃洋達
Cast: Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Tony Leung Ka-Fai 梁家輝; Sandra Ng 吳君如; Aarif Lee 李治廷; Mag Lam 林欣彤; Chan Wing-Lam 陳穎嵐; Stanley Fung 馮淬帆; Anita Yuen 袁詠儀; Fala Chen 陳法拉; Wu Ma 午馬; Wong Cho-Lam 王祖藍; Bosco Wong 黃宗澤; Jess Shum 沈卓盈; Liu Kai-Chi 廖啟智; Wayne Lai 黎耀祥; Maggie Cheung Ho-Yee 張可頤; Alfred Cheung 張堅庭; Louis Yuen 阮兆祥; Michelle Lo 盧覓雪; Kate Tsui 徐子珊 Joyce Cheng 鄭欣宜; JJ Jia 賈曉晨; Koni Lui 呂慧儀; Jeannette Leung 梁政玨; Siu Yam-Yam 邵音音; Evergreen Mak 麥長青; 6 Wing 陸永; Tenky Tin 田啟文; Lam Suet 林雪; Raymond Wong 黃浩然; Otto Wong 王志安; Eddie Pang 彭懷安; Jim Chim 詹瑞文; Samantha Ko 高海寧; Felix Wong 黃日華; Michael Miu 苗僑偉; Mak Ling-Ling 麥玲玲; Pierre Ngo 敖嘉年; Christine Kuo 苟芸慧; Terence Tsui 小肥; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; and a LOT more
Time: 104 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014