NYAFF 09 Review: MAGAZINE GAP ROAD
"She'll come back. They always do."
Or, she'll be back, according to the subtitles on the screener, but that doesn't seem like the ideal translation.
A former Tokyo call girl and an alcoholic ex-cop attempt to help a young woman escape her pimp and start a new life. Sounds very film noir, but aside from the pulpy nature of the setup and a brief, violent climax, it plays out more like a character drama.
We begin with the end, or what should have been if this story were to have a happy one. Beautiful Samantha keeps watch over Kate, a junkie ex-colleague drying out on a boat off the shore of Hong Kong. (Why anyone would detox on a boat is beyond me.) We flash back two weeks to learn Samantha has traded in one form of high society for another, working as an antique curator in The Peak, one of Hong Kong's most prestigious areas. Jump ahead one month and her Samaritan act threatens to destroy her world.
While Samantha seems content with her new life, Kate quickly begins to long for more glamorous days. It could be that Samantha has a great job and a millionaire boyfriend while Kate is working as a gas station attendant, but you never know. The lure of the pimps and the drugs is too great for Kate, and before you know it she has put the old gang on to Samantha's whereabouts.
Magazine Gap Road is being described as a rare Hong Kong indie, but it sure doesn't look it. For a first time director, Nick Chin is surprisingly assured. The film is beautifully shot, depicting a bright and vibrant Hong Kong, full of neon lights and lush green countryside. It boasts great turns by veteran actors Elvis Tsui and Richard Ng, as well as a multi-faceted performance from former model Jessey Meng (of The Mummy 3 fame.)
Those expecting a more traditional noir, full of superficial cool and self-conscious hipness will be disappointed. While the themes of escaping the life are very noir in origin, Magazine Gap Road does something different with them, giving us a character piece that is low on action, but high on quality. It is a film about people's capacity to change, and what they are willing to do to survive. To quote Kate, "At night, we still open our legs. Some wider than the others."