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True Women For Sale
True Women For Sale     True Women For Sale

(left) Prudence Lau, and (right) Race Wong traverse the streets
of Sham Shui Po in Herman Yau's True Women For Sale.
Chinese: 我不賣身 我賣子宮  
Year: 2008  
Director: Herman Yau Lai-To
  Producer: Ng Kin-Hung
  Writer: Yang Yee-Shan, Herman Yau Lai-To
Cast:

Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Prudence Lau Mei-Kwan, Race Wong Yuen-Ling, Sammy, Monie Tung Man-Lei, Sherming Yiu Lok-Yi, Chapman To Man-Chat, Jessey Meng, Fung Hak-On, Toby Leung Ching-Kei, Siu Yam-Yam, Yung-Yung Yu, Siu Fei, Yumiko Cheng Hei-Yi, Louis Cheung Kai-Chung, Jackie Ma Hok-Ming, Derek Kwok Chi-Kin

The Skinny: Both preachy and personal, True Women For Sale is very Hong Kong and very Herman Yau. The film is probably tough going for audiences without knowledge of Hong Kong's cultural or social issues, but it's got both intelligence and personality, and is worthy simply as an uncommon look at local Hong Kong lives.
 
Review
by Kozo:
Director Herman Yau revisits Whispers and Moans territory once more with True Women For Sale, except this time he has a little more fun. Taking place in local Sham Shui Po, the film details an assortment of lower class characters muddling through situations that are unique to Hong Kong and its people. Anthony Wong is Lau Fu-Yi, an insurance salesman who caters to working class stiffs, including temporary construction workers, one of whom cashes in his chips after an accident. Lau is charged with delivering the meager insurance payment to the widow, Wong Lin-Fa (Race Wong), a Mainland immigrant with one daughter and one more child on the way. Like many girls from the Mainland, Lin-Fa desires Hong Kong residency, and against his initial judgement, Lau finds himself helping her out.

Meanwhile, longtime prostitute Chung (Prudence Lau) has a special day coming up, and is looking for extra cash to fix her hideous teeth. She passes her days trying to earn extra bucks while also taking the time to worship dead chickens (which were killed due to the avian flu scare) at a makeshift local shrine. By the way, Cantonese slang for a prostitute is "chicken", so she's a chicken that worships chickens - get it? That little nugget of humor is typical of what's going on in True Women For Sale; co-writers Herman Yau and Yang Yeeshan (who also collaborated on Whispers and Moans) tackle local culture and social issues, sometimes twisting them for off-color, self-referential, but still funny laughs. It's questionable how much really translates to international audiences, but the material is worthy, if only because it shows a part of Hong Kong that few films do.

The film doesn't possess a plot as much as it relates details that illuminate its characters and reference local issues. One of Chung's regulars (Fung Hak-On) has long professed some affection for her, but the focus isn't on some missed chance at love. Instead, we learn about how Hong Kong men are increasingly uninterested in local women. Chung's customer and other men look to the Mainland for young, fertile companionship. Meanwhile, Chung and her fellow prostitutes verbally bash their direct competition: Mainland prostitutes who are younger, cheaper, and obviously not as worse-for-the-wear. Just as Mainland wives steal local men, Mainland prostitutes steal local customers, leaving women like Chung at a bit of a loss. Chung's plight does not go unnoticed; local photojournalist Chi (Sammy) takes an interest in her, and begins shadowing her for a juicy human interest story. Chi also runs into Lau on more than one occasion, and Lin-Fa and Chung interact too, resulting in a criss-crossing, scattershot, but interesting and effective look at local Hong Kong lives. The film isn't really conclusive about its issues, but it feels informed, authentic and not pretentious.

The subject matter of True Women For Sale is ripe for loaded drama and heavy lessons, and as Whispers and Moans showed us, Herman Yau and Yang Yeeshan aren't afraid to get preachy. However, Yau is a tremendous director with this sort of subject matter, managing to find humanity, heart and humor in his local topics, and he does it without resorting to outright manipulation. The talky set-ups and long educational sequences are surprisingly easy to take in, and the actors manage to make their didactic dialogue sound natural. There are some moments where the explication goes on a bit too long and the characters clearly become mouthpieces, but Yau seldom uses the hammer. True Women For Sale is much more genial than the heavier-handed Whispers and Moans. Both films do occasionally resort to clichés and sentimentality, but True Women For Sale is more lighthearted and knowing, and portrays its subject matter seriously but with affection.

The abundance of familiar faces is another credit to the film. Many of the actors clearly took on the project due to the content and the crew, and not because of commercial prospects or the hope of a career boost. Among the actors, Prudence Lau (a longtime singer with few acting credits) is the standout due to her character's affectations, which are so eccentric that she starts to seem needlessly wacky. Lau's performance is a bit showy, but she's able to carry the film through its more maudlin moments, and is bravely undeterred by the unglamorous role. Race Wong doesn't fare as well in the other leading female role, in some part due to inexperience, but also because her character is far more of a mouthpiece than Lau's is. The film's status as a low-budget social drama means that it's a bit rough; the narrative alternates between earnest drama and self-reflexive gags, and the production is rather cheap. Still, Herman Yau is at his strongest when he has a smaller budget and a personal voice. Yau's more commercial films have been effective but unremarkable, and lack the personality, honesty and unpolished spirit that ultimately makes True Women For Sale notable and also endearing. (Kozo, Reviewed at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, 2008)

 

Availability:

DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mei Ah Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
  Find this at YesAsia.com

image courtesy of The Hong Kong Asian Film Festival Society

   
   
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