Women's Private Parts (2000)
Written & directed by: Barbara Wong
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With a background in acting and filmmaking both in Hong Kong and abroad, Barbara Wong (Truth Or Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat) landed on the scene with a documentary rather than a feature. Women's Private Parts was the product of frank discussion of everything sex-related between Wong and her friends so the idea was brought forth to let Hong Kong women, within a safe environment, speak freely on their views on sex, sexuality relationships, marriage etc on camera. As Wong herself says in the opening, the idea was to make a film to create more understanding of women from a male perspective but possibly it could leave men feeling horrified as well. A loose production doing very well when just letting its subject and subjects speak, a way too generous running time and sidetracks prevents Wong achieving a thorough focus.
Launching us right into the less than timid discussion about having sex, sexual positions, the issue of being quiet, moan or scream, it's both refreshing and entertaining to let the words flow freely as they do here. While not crude for the sake of it, just because matters are out in the open there's no lack of insight or intelligence here. Although Barbara has for her first session gathered one quite open lady and a younger, giddy, shy one, frank statements about spiritual love, masturbation and sexual needs if your beloved partner for instance is impotent are well captured moments. Ultimately many matters involve communication, lack of and even the difficulty of balancing just how MUCH you communicate with your partner in bed. She does no service to the stale format by intercutting animal footage for certain talking points however. I understand that a static frame needs spice but Wong has already captured our interest by structuring Women's Private Parts as a talking head exercise. Don't be afraid to let things be as natural as they can be. No need to be bring in NATURE into it.
What a male will hopefully understand when watching these Hong Kong women is that the genders aren't all that different in their view of pursuing sex and love for instance. Not that I or Wong bring you a breaking piece of news that also women prefer the male body looking a certain way even when men reach in their 40s, some of the best moments captured by Wong (and it's a testament that the environment she sets up works wonders) are women sharing their particular, quite peculiar views on how things like putting on a condom or taking Viagra should go. In one laugh out loud session, one woman claims she doesn't want to watch her man prepare for her with a condom or Viagra so the natural, very funny response by one of Wong's interviewees is: "So he's supposed to wear the condom under his pants already?" It's not meant to poke fun at someone's needs mentally for everything surrounding sex to click. It's just an example of how we ALL possess peculiarities that could almost be healthy to admit. At least in this case.
Furthermore, we get interviews with a woman providing legal support for sex workers, a mistress who's chosen to be anonymous, Singapore porn star Annabel Chong (who speaks of her record- session that involved having sex with 251 men in one day), a lesbian couple, a transvestite, a male gigolo and when looking at Barbara's structure for her documentary, it cuts back and forth without much of a red thread being present. The questions asked are very valid and we get honest, poignant answers (although the mistress has such an outspoken view on her role that clearly reveals some uncomfortable darkness in that soul), it's a shame that Wong doesn't fully stop to give us more info about the various women (they're only identified in Chinese most of the time as well), especially the woman responsible for legal support for sex workers. Oh we get a feel for most anything covered here, including one huge, expected tangent about how relationships fall apart and why men seek out mistresses or prostitutes. It's the most difficult topic to cover because the balance in a relationship is fragile. One woman even amusingly says relationships should be re-evaluated every 4 years (like a US presidential term). Some think you must entice your man after a hard day's work, some counter with a big fat no and naturally (based on valid evidence really) men are looked down upon to some degree. It's easy to sympathize with each opinion , it's equally easy to argue against and ultimately Women's Private Parts does its job by extending the discussions to the viewing audience as well. Barbara wisely observes and captures.
Some hidden camera sections at a brothel may seem like controversy for the sake of it but it has a part of Wong's structure (reality, if it actually is, should be tough to swallow sometimes folks) and is one of the few excursions outside of the interview format that works. Otherwise Wong pours it on a little bit too thick stylistically during some points and she could've easily trimmed or cut out certain interviews altogether, including the final one with a small girl. Thanks to above mentioned illumination she manages to get via the open forum as well as the heartfelt interview with director Ann Hui and 70s adult actress Siu Yam-Yam (who relates a good story about her son finding out she did movies of that kind), Barbara Wong overall nails bringing out issues out in the open with an intelligent touch. Women's Private Parts sees Hong Kong women having adapted to a new era, at least within Wong's set up format, and it's firmly illuminating to have it captured on camera. Not in the least scary but very humane and that reality stays with your heart, brain and funny-bone.
The DVD (Widesight):
Video: 1.78:1 non-anamorphic widescreen.
Audio: Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1. A few sections are in Mandarin and English.
Subtitles: Imbedded English and Chinese.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson