True Women For Sale (2008)
Directed by: Herman Yau
Award at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 2008:
Herman Yau for once didn't log time in a quick comedy or triad/cops flick before returning to territory akin to 2007's Whispers And Moans. Mature in intent and attempting to echo real life issues of the female AND transvestite sex workers, possibly I'm way too much on the outside to appreciate what Herman Yau did for his city of Hong Kong but I know it didn't feel like a compelling attempt. With a 2 in the Chinese title for True Women For Sale (indicating a sequel but in reality just echoing territory a bit) and having Yeung Yee-Shan on as writer again, rating is lowered and again Herman Yau delivers a work closely connected to the city. What that means in comparison to Whispers And Moans however is clarity, distinction and some of the better frames of film Yau has directed lately.
Destined to be THE downer of the year but never straying fully into that territory and bearing the literally translated title "I Don't Sell My Body, I Sell My Uterus", True Women For Sale doesn't solely focus on the world of prostitutes. Oh one of our main down on her luck characters Chung Chung Lai (Prudence Liew) is fighting drug addiction, rotting teeth that naturally she gains few customers from but holds on to a hope on the horizon that remains unclear until the end of the film. She's spotted and followed by photographer Chi (Sammy Leung) who sees a chance to create an human interest story out of this destiny. In close proximity and encountering the characters of the film is driven insurance salesman Lau Fu-Yi (Anthony Wong 1*) who sees opportunities at every corner. Manipulating situations so that his clients will be able to get work and therefore pay their premiums, there is oodles of goodness in this quirky package of a character that ultimately has him focusing more on the plight of pregnant, single mother AND Mainland immigrant Wong Lin-Fa (Race Wong). Lacking a Hong Kong ID card and expecting soon, her stubbornness and bad luck has made her hit a wall in terms of getting the system to help her...
Yet director Herman Yau decides to play the multi-mood conveyer, arguing that Hong Kong life is up and down in terms of moods. We see for instance Chung Chung Lai even abort business with a client to take care of her chickens. A notion and reasoning surely up in the air in terms of viewer interpretation (I've got one, feeble one) but also, here's a character that holds on to very little and only possibly a breath of fresh air will help her gain momentum in life. Played with a fine sense of not fitting into her shell by Prudence Liew, it's a center piece to the film (along with her ongoing relationship with easy going, regular client Chi played by old school kung-fu legend Fung Hak-On) that works well along with Yau's intention to have some lighthearted moments and genuine heartache. It's being created out of the location Yau is setting this all in, the superb characteristics of the tight Hong Kong streets.
Working in the notion of Mainlanders coming to Hong Kong for prostitution and new government laws about immigrants in general, it's territory unknown to most Western viewers but even if some layers of drama are lost on outside eyes, it's a credit to Yau that he manages to affect across the board despite. Close to a comedic sidekick to the film, Anthony Wong takes a potentially annoying character and molds it in a fun way along with Herman who often puts little on-screen text on display for us to see Wong's insurance man-mindset. Because there's always opportunity in Hong Kong, always clients, always consideration but he's an off-beat character caught up in real situations he proves adapt at. The way he goes out of his way for his clients is very in tune, risky but Wong totally becomes a poster boy for a positive train of thought in a difficult Hong Kong.
The reality strays a little with Race Wong's Wong Lin-Fa as it's difficult to always side with this loud-mouthed, stubborn girl and dramatically it doesn't resonate as well as other parts of the film but from a directorial standpoint, Race Wong's scenes are fine examples of Herman Yau making the sound decision to let moments play out uninterrupted and at a distance. Especially in scenes where Wong Lin-Fa's little child is doing her thing behind the dialogue and even crying her lungs out in between actors during dialogue that therefore needs to be performed louder and louder and louder!
True Women For Sale turns out to be some form of encouraging love letter to the citizens of Hong Kong to live through harsh times, do their best and times will always be an ongoing test to stay alive. Times aren't pretty and Herman Yau isn't arguing that they are but with his concrete drama with suitable dips into the quirky, Yau shows he can stay on this ride of maturity. Because ultimately it's clear he lives and breathes for Hong Kong and is aware. Compared to Whispers And Moans, some of us looking in from the outside are aware now as well.
The DVD (Mei Ah):
Video: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Audio: Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 and Cantonese DTS 5.1.
Subtitles: English (very well written with only one spotted spelling error), traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.
Extras: Making Of (4 minutes, 47 seconds and Chinese subtitles only) following the usual format, the trailer and Mei Ah's useless Databank (with bilingual plot synopsis and sparse cast & crew listing).
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson