NY Asian 2014 Review: GOLDEN CHICKENSSS, In Which the Third Time Isn't Entirely the Charm
The 2002 comedy Golden Chicken and its 2003 sequel Golden Chicken 2, starring Hong Kong's queen of comedy Sandra Ng, were love letters both to Ng herself, who was given perhaps the greatest showcase committed to film of her formidable comedic talents and endearing persona, as well as Hong Kong itself. Or more specifically, the people of Hong Kong, whose indomitable spirit allowed them to withstand anything history threw at them. These films were panoramas of Hong Kong history as seen through the experiences of Ng's character Kam, a prostitute. As the films tell us, "chicken" is Cantonese slang for a prostitute; the "golden" in the title refers to Kam being the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold, as well as the fact that the "Kam" means "gold" in Cantonese.
And now, more than a decade after Golden Chicken 2, Sandra Ng has reprised her iconic role in the third installment of Kam's saga, entitled Golden Chickensss. (I honestly have no idea what the triple "s" at the end of that means, other than as a more creative option than simply calling it Golden Chicken 3.) In this new film, Kam has now graduated from being a prostitute to a madam, managing a stable of sex workers that she hooks up with clients via smartphone.
However, Golden Chickensss actually begins well before that in history, actually in prehistory, in a funny nod to Kubrick's 2001, explaining the etymological origin of the term "chicken" and how the very first prostitutes operated. This opener races through history, landing next in ancient China, where Ng's character negotiates prices and services with a customer played by Anthony Wong, in one of the first of many, many Hong Kong star cameos. Their haggling is initially expressed with florid Chinese poetry, and then with earthier and much more modern and raunchy parlance. After that, time continues on its rapid march, speeding through the 1930's - with a funny Donnie Yen cameo reprising his Ip Man role as a piss-take on Wong Kar-wai's The Grandmaster - and then the 1970s and 1980s nightclub scene, right up until today. (Kam, via voiceover, suggests we watch the first two films if we want more details on the history.) Kam exercises on a treadmill while she sets up meetings between her hookers and their clients in hotel suites, the action smartly laid out using split screens.
Kam's stable is a motley one, with girls made to cater any man's needs, including a couple of token foreigners. The one that stands out the most is Woo Loo (Ivana Wong), who purports to be from mainland China, exaggerated accent and all, but in actuality is a local girl with a gimmick. She rivals Kam as a fascinating and rather endearing character; among her other quirks, she dons fake buckteeth in order to give better blow jobs. Just as Kam did when she was a prostitute, Woo Loo employs myriad tricks and hustling schemes to compensate for the fact that she may not be the most physically attractive of the bunch. More than just about anyone else in the film, she embodies (to use her own words) the "do anything for money" spirit that Golden Chickensss argues typifies Hong Kong folk.
There isn't really a plot to speak of here; it's a very episodic sort of film where simply one thing happens after another. It also takes the opposite approach from the panoramic historical parade of the original Golden Chicken, mostly taking place over the course of a day and a half. But lots of amusing things happen. Kam gets her bags stolen by a fake masseur (Cal Ng); they're recovered by her gangster friend Jackie Boy (Eason Chan). An old client (Lo Hoi-pang) asks Kam to help fulfill his wife's dying wish to sleep with the actor Louis Koo. Kam hires a look-alike (played by Louis Koo himself, sending up his own image) who proudly hails from "Bumfuk, China." Kam and the girls take a research trip to Japan, during which the film gets to indulge in depictions of stereotypical Japanese perversions. There, they visit a sex shop specializing in anonymous blow jobs (the proprietor is played by sex-scandal scarred Edison Chen); they learn techniques from male fellatio expert Takuya (Wyman Wong). Back in Hong Kong, gangster Gordon (Nick Cheung), an old flame of Kam's, is released from a long stint in prison, trying to reclaim his old turf but completely stymied by how radically Hong Kong has changed during the time he was away.
Golden Chickensss starts out fairly strong, and manages to sustain its interest for about three quarters of its running time. It's goofy, silly, and rather dumb, but it exudes a great deal of charm, and Sandra Ng is unsurprisingly quite winning as the endlessly optimistic, never-say-die madam. Cantopop star Ivana Wong, making her screen debut, is wonderful here, and very nearly steals the film from Ng, conveying deeper layers to her character than there initially appears, especially when she falls hard for a "duck" (a gigolo, played by Ronald Cheng), revealing a vulnerable softness underneath her tough-girl exterior.
Director Matt Chow, co-screenwriter of the first Golden Chicken, takes over from Samson Chiu, who directed the first two installments, and acquits himself well for the most part, making everything visually interesting and lively. Unfortunately, the film takes an ill-advised turn into maudlin sentimentality during its latter stages. The attempt to make us actually care about characters that have essentially been self-parodies up until that point generates a sudden tonal shift that almost derails the film entirely. Although the original Golden Chicken was just as episodic as this latest version, it had a much stronger center in Sandra Ng's character and her connection to Hong Kong history; Golden Chickensss feels rather less coherent and sturdy in its construction.
Still, Golden Chickensss, with its massive cavalcade of star roles and cameos (including the return of Andy Lau, from the first Golden Chicken, during the end credits), fits solidly within the tradition of light, intellectually undemanding entertainment that abounds during the lunar New Year season in Hong Kong. It is also very proudly a local film, bucking the growing trend of mainland Chinese co-productions, which means your enjoyment of this film will be directly proportional to your familiarity with Hong Kong cinema. So despite the sappiness of its last act, Golden Chickensss is a funny and diverting movie that mostly retains the generous spirit of its predecessors.
Golden Chickensss screens on July 1, 4pm at the Walter Reade Theater. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the Film Society of Lincoln Center's website, or the New York Asian Film Festival website.