After his 2007 movie Whispers and Moans (性工作者十日談), which shone the spotlight on Hong Kong’s sex industry, veteran filmmaker Herman Yau (邱禮濤) focuses on a similar theme in True Women for Sale (我不賣身，我賣子宮), a movie that addresses marginalized members of society. The film tackles serious social issues — the plight of immigrants and sex workers — with warmhearted humor and a sense of humanity.
Set in 2000, the film opens with life insurance salesman Lau Fu-yi (Anthony Wong, 黃秋生) delivering a meager payout to the widowed Wong Lin-fa (Race Wong, 黃婉伶), a young Chinese mother of one daughter who is pregnant with twins. Wong views her unborn children as a ticket to permanent residency in Hong Kong despite the fact that she is barely able to raise her first child in the seedy Hong Kong neighborhood she inhabits alongside a cast of disreputable characters.
One such neighbor Lin-fa looks down on is longtime junkie and street prostitute Chung (Prudence Liew, 劉美君), who is set on earning extra cash to fix her teeth.
Meanwhile, photographer Chi (Sammy Leung, 森美) thinks that Chung would make a suitable subject for a human-interest story and sets about unearthing the 39-year-old hooker’s life story.
By casting a local sex worker and a Chinese immigrant as the lead protagonists, Yau effectively highlights the body as a political field that is monitored and disciplined by the state through the police and social workers, yet that is at the same time used by women as a means for political, financial and social gain.
The media frenzy caused when Lin-fa gives birth on a bus earns her residency, a happenstance that contrasts with the press coverage afforded street demonstrations by Chinese immigrants.
Yau shows his directorial dexterity by weaving together the two seemingly unrelated stories without forcing congruency. The film, though, is not without its moments of sentimentality and cliche, and its lighthearted portraits of working-class characters and predictably happy ending seem aimed at mainstream audiences.
The characters are realistically portrayed and handled with affection. Malaysian-born Race Wong delivers a natural performance as a Chinese immigrant who is forced to become selfish, loud and difficult in order to protect her family in a hostile environment. Accomplished thespian Anthony Wong handles his salesman character with ease, punctuating the story with moments of good-natured humor.
The star of the film, however, is Hong Kong’s veteran singer and actress Liew, who returns to the big screen after more than a decade-long hiatus. She is precise in her portrait of the eccentric lady of the night, who is at the same time both innocent and worn out by life, but who also manages to maintain faith in people. Her performance saves the film from becoming a tearjerker at its most maudlin moments.
The Chinese doctor played by Taiwan’s Jessey Meng (孟廣美), on the other hand, is a lifeless symbol of China, a proud, alluring and dangerous object of desire in the eyes of Hong Kong businessmen like Anthony Wong’s character.
True Women for Sale (我不賣身，我賣子宮)
DIRECTED BY: Herman Yau (邱禮濤)
STARRING: Prudence Liew (劉美君) as Chung, Anthony Wong (黃秋生) as Lau Fu-yi, Race Wong (黃婉伶) as Wong Lin-fa, Sammy Leung (森美) as Chi
Language: in Cantonese with English and Chinese subtitles
RUNNING TIME: 90 MINUTES
TAIWAN RELEASE: TODAY
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