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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
Soh Yun-Huei
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   Golden Chicken  


Golden Chicken

Reviewed by Soh Yun-Huei


Chinese Title: Gam gai
Director: Samson Chiu Leong Chun
Writing Credits: Samson Chiu Leong Chun, Matt Chow
Cast: Sandra Ng Kwan Yue, Eric Tsang, Eason Chan
Genre: Comedy
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese
Year Released: 2002
Runtime: 106 min
Rating: *** (out of four stars)

Golden Chicken sounds like a formula for disaster - Sandra Ng, the ugly princess of Hong Kong comedy, in a film about the life story of a prostitute, replete with tacky, 80s outfits and wigs. However, the resultant film is a gem - laugh-out-loud funny comedy, but with a heart as well. Golden Chicken also features a truly hilarious trailer (I speak eight languages...But here, I only speak one language...) that’s bound to live on in time as one of the most innovative Hong Kong trailers ever. The actual movie is equally funny at times, but director Samson Chiu does try to drive home the message of the film with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, which detracts from the enjoyment of the movie. Sandra Ng puts in a fine performance that whilst will probably not earn her any awards, is definitely one of the most memorable amidst the multitude of "vase" roles that have been accorded to Hong Kong actresses of late.

Golden Chicken begins when a desperate, jobless man (Eric Tsang) holds up Ah Kam (Sandra Ng) at a 24-hour ATM machine, only to find out that she doesn’t even have enough money in her account to be robbed in the first place. A sudden power outage traps the duo in the bank, and in order to pass time, Ah Kam decides to tell James Bong (that’s his name - I kid you not) her life story. Having been in the sex trade since she was fifteen, Ah Kam has done it all - dance hostess, prostitute, masseuse... And through her eyes, we see the peaks and valleys that Hong Kong has experienced throughout the years, mirrored in her own experiences as well. Two incidents of particular note in Ah Kam’s life are given extra attention - the first is when she bears a child in the course of her work, and the second is when she falls in love with a man who also happens to be her regular customer. All this reminiscing is also done with an accompaniment of notable Canto-pop songs throughout the years, and as Ah Kam recounts the story of her life, morning slowly creeps up on the trapped duo.

And that, basically, is the plot of Golden Chicken - very no frills, and about as straight a narrative as you can get. Well, almost totally straight - there are a few twists and turns along the way, but nothing that is unexpected. If you’ve seen Asian films or drama serials before, nothing in Golden Chicken is that surprising. There is also no fancy direction nor cinematography, and the only special effects is the huge amount of makeup slopped onto Sandra Ng’s face. What the film really rides on, then, is Sandra Ng’s performance. And what an astounding performance it is.

Sandra Ng has always been known as the ugly, uncouth actress in Hong Kong comedies, but beneath that lies a pretty good thespian that can emote rather well. She shows up this aspect quite convincingly in Golden Chicken, especially in the more tender scenes in the film. Of course, it being a comedy, Sandra Ng gives a hearty measure of her typical slapstick as well, and I have to say that in Hong Kong cinema, no other actress does this as well as she can. Just imagine a dance hostess dressed in a "glam" outfit but performing kung fu moves a la Jackie Chan, and you have an idea of how slapstick Golden Chicken is. Ah Kam is a particularly aesthetically unappealing character, as in the early parts of her life she is dressed in hideous outfits, and in the latter parts she puts on a fair bit of weight around the middle. It’s also commendable that Sandra Ng is willing to shed her now rather classy image for this role.

Another reason why Golden Chicken would appeal to cinemagoers lies with the fact that the script is simple but true-to-life (in a way). Of course, certain scenes have been milked for their comedic content, but when the movie chooses to be sentimental, it hits the right note. The story arc in which Ah Kam bears a child out of wedlock is surprisingly touching, without being overtly melodramatic, and her "romance" with her customer is both tender and mildly erotic at the same time. The film also features a handful of cameo appearances, none of which are that flattering to the celebrities, which makes the cameos even more fun. Andy Lau, Eason Chan, Tony Leung Kar Fai, and more can be seen hamming it up in Golden Chicken, and it’s apparent that they had a blast while doing it.

However, the inspirational message behind the movie is all but too transparent, and especially near the end it starts feeling like a video produced by the Hong Kong government. That aside, Golden Chicken is a highly entertaining film, sure to give most audiences a few chances to laugh their hearts out, and for the more sentimental ones, even a few moments to shed some tears. An unexpectedly satisfying film (and how can I not mention the brilliant trailer one more time?).

Final Word: An interesting film that comes across as being too eager to be inspirational, Sandra Ng's take-no-prisoners performance alone is worth the price of admission.