Golden Chicken (2002)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-07-29
Anyone who watches “Golden Chicken” and doesn’t fall in love with Kum played by Sandra Ng must be a hard-hearted person indeed. While Kum’s life as a prostitute in Hong Kong is no more “real” than that depicted by Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman” it is grounded in the authenticity of an individual dealing with overwhelming social, political and economic forces. It is also a love letter to Hong Kong (or perhaps a postcard from the city) concentrating on the resilience and fortitude of its residents who must deal with the Handover, the Asian financial crisis, bird flu and other catastrophic problems. The movie is relentlessly upbeat—even the repossession of Kum’s furniture is played for laughs—and the issues of death, disease, poverty and homelessness are touched on briefly, made touchingly poignant and then dismissed.

I thought of two other movies while watching “Golden Chicken”: “Comrades, Almost a Love Story” and “One Night in Mongkok”. While very different, both from “Golden Chicken” and each other, each of them are related to it structurally or thematically. “Comrades” takes place in the decade before “Golden Chicken” and during some of the same time. It includes the worldwide financial meltdown of 1987 and the AIDS epidemic. The Handover is something that will happen in the future although many people in both movies deal with it in the same way, through emigration. “Comrades” does a better job of showing how events that played out on the international stage affected citizens of Hong Kong even though the two main characters are from Guangdong and use the city as a staging point for their leap into the wider world.

In “One Night in Mongkok” we also see Hong Kong through the eyes of a prostitute, Dan Dan. She would be one of the “northern chicks” that become a problem for Kum and her co-workers but her life is far removed from the hostess clubs where they work. A hard working young woman from the countryside, Dan Dan sees only the filth and squalor of her part of Hong Kong, an area that doesn’t exist in “Golden Chicken”.

But enough of what “Golden Chicken” isn’t. Much more interesting is what it is, a movie for people who love Hong Kong. Sandra Ng gives a performance that is a clinic in comedy acting; the writing is sharp and funny; the cameos by a significant part of Hong Kong film royalty are terrific; Eric Tsang is, as usual, the perfect sad sack and the structure, while it has been a zillion times, is made fresh by the framing device which has Kum and James Bon trapped in an ATM lobby during a power cut.

A lovely example of the cheerful indelicacy of the movie happens when Kum has an order of food delivered to her apartment. The delivery guy, faced with the fantasy of underpaid and undertipped delivery guys the world over, actually turns down her invitation to come into her barely furnished love nest and receive payment in service instead of cash. This would be the absolute nadir of a prostitute’s career, unable to trade for HK$37.50 in food. Immediately afterwards, though, Andy Lau slides through the screen of her television set to deliver banal (but still accurate) customer service tips. The payoff is that Andy, one of most popular and charismatic figures in East Asia, will always be around to offer help and advice when it is most needed—and if not him then some other deus ex machina type.

The way the outside world impinges upon Hong Kong is represented by news clips on television which contrast Chris Patten, the last British governor of the Crown Colony, with Tung Chee Hwa, the first PRC Chief Executive of the Special Administrative Region. Tung sounds completely ineffectual as he discussed the Asian financial crisis and its effects on Hong Kong, saying that it was a special challenge for him but looking as if he had no idea how to rise to this challenge. Another indication is the sudden influx of prostitutes from the Mainland, “northern chicks with bad Cantonese, big boobs and bad makeup” who crowd out the local girls. Tony Leung, as Professor Chan, is last shown teaching Mainland girls how to pronounce Cantonese but everything they say still sounds like a sexual invitation. I couldn’t tell from the way the girls were repeating his examples but he may have been showing them how to mispronounce Cantonese terms to make it clear that they were available. Either way it was a very funny and very short scene and one in keeping with the buoyant and always cheerful tenor of the film.

There are a lot of reasons to recommend “Golden Chicken”.
Reviewer Score: 7