Golden Chicken sss (Kam Kai sss): Film Review
A decade-old Hong Kong sex-worker comedy receives a reboot, driven by star cameos and a flood of cinematic pastiches, showbiz inside-jokes and pop-culture references.
Midway through the first part of Golden Chicken sss -- a film that provides a comical chronicle of what is supposed to be a day in the life of Hong Kong's modern-day call girls -- the lead character, the prostitute-turned-pimp Kam (Sandra Ng), breaks through the fourth wall to say that those who are looking for a substantive account of the rise and fall of Hong Kong's hostess-in-excess nightclubs are probably watching the wrong movie. "You should go and watch Golden Chicken and Golden Chicken 2," Kam says in the voiceover, referring to the first two classic Hong Kong sex-worker comedies in the series, which have been perceived by many as offering both endless entertainment and also a stirring look at the ebb and flow of the city's fortunes during the past four decades.
Apt advice this is, indeed. Slated for release during Hong Kong's Chinese New Year holidays and directed by Golden Chicken co-screenwriter Matt Chow, Golden Chicken sss is, like the profession at its center, all about offering no-strings-attached gratification. Essentially a string of pastiches of other films (from 2001: A Space Odyssey – yes, you've read it right – to recent local hits such as The Grandmaster and The White Storm), references to pop culture and politics (spanning tired gags about the Japanese sex industry and shallow digs about social discontent against the city's government) and numerous stellar cameos (with many of Hong Kong's A-listers mocking their past roles and, in the case of Donnie Yen and Louis Koo, their public personas), Golden Chicken sss flirts with the Hong Kong film fad for the risqué (which rang tills ringing for Vulgaria) but offers little substance.
It's a satire of half-hearted, cheap and dated shots, with hit-and-miss jokes struggling to give the film some kind of coherent form or style. Opening in Hong Kong on Jan. 30, the film will struggle to compete with the other comedies released on the same day, as they all aim to cash in on the long Chinese New Year break. And with its very localized humor, export potential is minimal perhaps apart from Asian-themed festivals.
One of the more bizarre distraction in Golden Chicken sss is the way the unwieldy proceedings at times cast the film's protagonist (and, in a way, its star) away from the spotlight. While producer Peter Chan (who is also Ng's life partner) and director Samson Chiu have gone to great lengths to recruit Hong Kong's biggest (male) stars to prop Ng up in the first two Golden Chicken films -- with most of them playing customers whose demeanors illustrate the challenges Kam has had to confront in different epochs of her (and Hong Kong's) life -- the makers of this latest installment, which is produced by only Ng herself, have somehow placed the character in a place where her presence is nearly arbitrary. The non-existent narrative basically renders her as a mere bystander as other people's problems unfold.
It would still be a sufficiently engaging approach if the side-characters had their issues properly addressed as they step into the broach. But somehow Kam/Ng's sacrifice is apropos to nothing as the serious stuff is left underdeveloped (such as two clownish sex workers who let their masks slip – just for a bit – when no one's looking) or played out as a cliché (with Nick Cheung, he of Unbeatable and The White Storm, playing a mobster trying to acclimatize to 21stcentury life with Kam's help after spending more than a decade in jail). The last thread -- which is slowly brought to an all-singing happily-ever-after finale de rigueur to the traditional festive-comedy genre -- is especially awkward, with Kam being sidelined so much that at times it looks like something from an altogether different movie.
While Ng can no longer count on generating the accolades she received for the first two films -- and it's fair to note that much of the film's pre-release publicity has focused on the the pursuit of curvature rather than consciousness on the actor's part -- Ronald Cheng and Ivana Wong, who play the two escorts who briefly connect when they discover each is just playing the fool to earn a living, are the eye-catchers of the day.
Therein perhaps lies the film's inadvertently-placed message, but one directed at Hong Kong's film business rather than the sex industry: what does it say about the status quo when Cheng and Wong, who both began their careers as accomplished singer-songwriters, find an audience only through over-the-top performances of playing the jester – with the former actually getting awards galore for his turn as a crazed, foul-mouthed gangster in Vulgaria and the latter more well-known for her sitcom roles than her music? It's a tale of suppressing the tears and carrying on regardless of the indignities – a theme that the first two Golden Chicken films brought forth. A big more of this would have given Golden Chicken sss the soul it needs, or a glimpse of the zeitgeist those earlier films seemed to reveal and in turn shape.
Venue: Press screening, Jan. 19, 2014 (opens in Hong Kong, Jan. 30)
Production companies: One Cool Production, Treasure Island Production
Director: Matt Chow
Cast: Sandra Ng, Nick Cheung, Ivana Wong, Ronald Cheng
Producers: Sandra Ng
Screenwriter: Matt Chow
Director of Photography: Edmond Fung
Production Designer: Man Lim-chung
Costume Designer: Lee Pik-kwan
Music: Alan Wong, Janet Yung
Editor: Azrael Chung
International Sales: Treasure Island Production
In Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese
No rating, 100 minutes