Golden Chicken

One late evening in an ATM booth Kam (Sandra Ng) gets accidentally locked in with a thief (Eric Tsang) who has been driven to the edge of desperation due to the bad economic times that have hit Hong Kong square in the face like a sucker punch. In an attempt to calm him down, give him hope and get them through the long night, Kam acts as a modern day Scherazade and relates to him the story of her life. In the episodic narration of her story and profession (prostitution), she also incorporates the ups and downs of an ever-changing Hong Kong. To some degree Kam is symbolic of this gritty resilient city that has learned to adapt to events such as the stock market crashes, Tiananmen Square, emigration and the Handover with stoic resolve.
Beginning with the entry into her profession at the young age of fifteen, Kam strings together various small interludes in her life that are by turn comical, wistful, hopeful and touching. It all adds up to a bittersweet portrait of someone getting through life as best as they can. In the background of her story always lies the character of Hong Kong – the tawdry massage parlors, the steaming hot pots, the rainy days, the constant chattering, the late night drinking games, the breathing of a city finding its way through two decades of change. From 1979 to the new millennium we witness Kam go from a pimply-faced “chick” to "Golden Chicken" status with an ever-thickening layer of rouge applied as she gets older. She begins in the “fish ball girl joints” where men grope women’s breasts in the shadows and later moves on to the glitzy years in an upscale hostess bar to the slow decline in a chicken’s professional career – to low rent massage parlors and finally to an apartment solo-bordello operation.
This aspect of her life is never judged harshly – it’s simply life and you make the best of it. As she tells Eric “What is tragic about it? I’ve met a lot of interesting people and sure had a lot of fun”. What really has a poignant yearning sadness to it that slowly grows during the narration is simply the inevitable passing of time – of friends made and friends lost, of youth fading into middle age, of birth and death, of a city of hope slowly changing to one of despair – of times that can never be recaptured except in your memories. By the end we feel as if we have gone on a journey with this woman to the mid-point of her life – optimistic to the end and a never say die glint in her eye. The almost Christmas like payoff miracle to this fairy tale has a wonderfully sweet and sentimental ring to it.
It is hard to imagine any actress in Hong Kong being able to do this role but Sandra Ng – she is simply wonderful here as she goes back and forth between humor and pathos and again establishes herself as perhaps the finest actress in that film industry. Admittedly she isn’t particularly convincing at fifteen, but she plays those scenes broadly – but as she ages she gains a sense of world-weary dignity that hangs on her like a badge of honor. The comical bits are easy for Sandra – she has done them in a hundred movies – but it is in the quieter reflective scenes where we can see straight into her heart that pull us into her life and make us care about her.
The film has a number of enjoyable cameos – Andy Lau as himself, Tony Leung Ka-fai in an almost unrecognizable role as a horny bucktoothed professor, Eason Chan as a client with peculiar tastes, Alfred Cheung as her doctor, Chapman To as one of her bosses – we also get to see a very young Chow Yun Fat, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-wai on the TV playing in the background. Starring as Kam’s Aunt who teaches her how to properly use her diaphragm to moan convincingly is Irene Tsui who also played the Aunt in Comrades a Love Story and was a beautiful actress in Hollywood earlier in her career.
This is a good film – I had been expecting it to be more of a comedy but though it has amusing aspects, it is really a thoughtful character study of a very ordinary person in perhaps a not very ordinary profession. There is no real plot per se and there is no focused drama – just points along the way that explain who you are. In a similar way to Just One Look, the film seems to look back longingly at a Hong Kong in the past – these are films that almost appear to be saying “lets celebrate what Hong Kong used to be – lets look back before we go forward” and in a society that has always been on the run, these moments of nostalgic reflection and celebration make one sense that we are catching HK at a turning point in it’s always changing life.

My rating for this film: 8.0