Hong Kong Digital
is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- a film
reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author of The Hong
City Of Desire
With Raymond Yip Wai-man at the helm and Sandra Ng Kwan-yu playing a character called Sister 13, this Mei Ah theatrical release looked like it would be a follow-up to the popular YOUNG AND DANGEROUS spinoff, PORTLAND STREET BLUES. In actuality, CITY OF DESIRE features an entirely different set of characters and is a far more understated and episodic look at gambling and prostitution in Macau.
Law Kar-ying, Cherry Chan Chiu-chiu, Sandra Ng Kwan-yu and Alex Fong Chong-sun (left to right.) Image courtesy Mei Ah.
Away attending school in Canada for the past decade, Sandra Lui (Ng, who is called Sister 13 by the characters onscreen) returns home to Macau to visit her ailing father. Suffering from Parkinson's Disease, the old man (Lau Siu-ming) can no longer remember anyone but has asked that Sandra take over the management of his businesses. To her surprise, this involves more than just hotels, as the Lui holdings also encompass nightclubs (which utilize hostesses from HK and China and strippers from Eastern Europe) and saunas. A liberated woman with strong views, Sandra has major problems with businesses that exploit women in this way. Her father's loyal employees, including the handsome Johnny (Alex Fong Chong-sun) and Uncle Motor (Law Kar-ying), try to change her thinking but face an uphill battle.
Anthony Wong Chau-sang and Josie Ho Chiu-yee. Image courtesy Mei Ah.
Brother Kam (Anthony Wong Chau-sang) takes advantage of the fact that he is not a full-fledged priest by carrying on a relationship with a Russian woman. He still exhibits traits befitting a man of the cloth, however, giving advice and cash to gambling addict / prostitute Pepper (Josie Ho Chiu-yee), even though he knows he will never see the money again.
While out on a routine check for unlicensed prostitutes, frustrated, middle-aged cop Cat (Blackie Ko Shou-liang) discovers deaf mute Man Sau (Alice Chan Wai). Although she is an alien from China, Cat feels sorry for the girl and takes her back to his apartment. Happy to have a woman waiting at home for him, Cat develops feelings for Sau and cannot abide her wish to return to work. When he is transferred to a different district, Cat gives Sau a large amount of money and asks her to marry him.
Alice Chan Wai. Image courtesy Mei Ah.
The first two narratives gradually intersect: as Pepper is an old friend from childhood, Sandra decides to help erase her debts; Kam tells Sandra of his earnest belief that Macau and Shenzhen are the Sodom and Gomorrah of the modern world and advises her to leave before she, too, becomes corrupted by the poisonous atmosphere; and Johnny's low-life brother offers Pepper a large amount of money, if she can provide a virgin for a Mainlander who has won $2 million at the local casinos.
Likely to be enjoyed more by seasoned HK cinema aficionados (who will love the star-laden cast and, thus, be more tolerant of the films missteps), CITY OF DESIRE strives to be a character study but Manfred Wong's script is not focussed or authentic enough to work on this level. In fact, it plays out like one of his infamous Flying Pages efforts, in which he had a rudimentary vision of the final product but did not or could not invest the time needed to properly see it through. There is little in the way of a dramatic arc to any of the storylines, leaving the performers largely on their own to generate audience interest and empathy. Yip mixes in camcorder footage for some documentary-style interludes and also incorporates recurring views of a street musician, who acts as a kind of narrative bridge. However, as a result of touches like these, the movie ends up feeling both overly ambitious and unfinished at the same time. Miao Feilin, Cherry Chan Chiu-chiu, Ronald Wong Pan, Kristy Yang Gong-ru, Cheung Tat-ming, and Charlie Cho Cha-lei also appear.
Anthony Wong. Image courtesy Mei Ah.
Josie Ho. Image courtesy Mei Ah.