Synopsis: The Golden Chicken is a riotous and raunchy exploration of one woman’s wacky life of prostitution, spanning over 20 years in Hong Kong. Our heroine is Kum, unattractive but so happy-go-lucky and spunky that she is a true Hong Kong survivor, and a legend in her own right. In Hong Kong, where prostitutes are referred to as “Chickens” she has earned herself the title of the Golden Chicken, the ultimate hooker.
Trapped in an ATM booth with a wannabe robber, Kum decides to pass the time by telling him 101 tales of her life in the sex trade. We follow Kum through her hilarious sexual journeys, with horny shenanigans and embarrassing situations galore. At the same time, we are also provided with a refreshingly unique and honest perspective into life and libido, economic and social change in her beloved Hong Kong throughout the decades.
Gam gai 6.75
eyelights: Sandra Ng’s versatility. Kum’s spirit.
eyesores: the absence of zany humour.
‘Gam gai’, or “Golden Chicken”, as it is known in English, is the story of a Hong Kong prostitute who is locked up in an ATM with a knife-wielding robber – a man so very down on his luck that she empathizes with him. As they wait to be released from their automated prison, which is shut down due to a power outage, she proceeds to kill the time by telling him about her adventures and misadventures as a working girl.
The film was a tremendous success and garnered a number of award nominations in its native land, also winning a handful at Taiwan’s 40th Annual Golden Horse Awards. It was popular enough that it was quickly followed by a sequel, ‘Gam gai 2’, and both were standards in Asian video stores in my neck of the woods – and given, that I live in North America, that must surely be saying something.
When I first saw ‘Gam gai’, I was rather disappointed. I expected a more spirited romp through a series of zany scenarios, thinking that I would laugh my @$$ off. Or, at the very least, chuckle heartily. My expectations were based on very little mind you: I had purchased it at a local shop that specialized in East Asian DVDs in a 3 for 20$ deal; I merely picked it out after months of seeing the shelf being restocked with it ceaselessly.
It so turns out that ‘Gam gai’ wasn’t nearly as funny as I expected it to be; it was, if anything, a dramedy.
After an amusing start, showing our lead, Kum, with a nerdy client who wanted her to pretend to be his ex-girlfriend, Snow Sow, and who asked her to pop the zits on his back, we quickly went into a chronological and linear exploration of her background – at what led her to this moment in time, 2001, over the course of two full decades. Some of it was amusing, but much of it pretty straight-forward.
There’s her encounter with Andy Lau, her favourite star, while working in a massage parlour (Lau plays himself in this and other connecting bits), her progression from a fishball shop worker at 15 to being a hostess at 18 to being a hooker proper. Then there is the small matter of her pregnancy, which she felt the gods were meddling with, and then the influx of Chinese courtesans, flooding brothels and making work scarce.
One of the things that really helped in ‘Gam gai’ was Sandra Ng’s performance as Kum. While she didn’t always look the part, given that she’s middle aged, it was super fun to watch her play a bespectacled teen with pig tails and a bad complexion, or a young woman with a bad ’80s perm and hot pants; it was abundantly clear that this was done for laughs and that the actors were in on the joke.
Ng totally delivered, too! As much as she was able to play up the pathos when needed, she was entirely immersed in her part and went broad when needed to. I especially loved that Kum was a fan of Jackie Chan and emulated his Drunken Master for her clients’ amusement; Ng was able to pull that off quite well, actually, and it became her character’s schtick.
She was particularly unselfconscious, which was terrific. Kum is considered unattractive by many standards and is usually low on the brothel clients’ list, but she makes up for it in spirit, thereby managing a decent living nonetheless. Ng didn’t balk one bit and even poked fun at no longer being a spring chicken when Kum decried her lost youth, pulling on the soft fleshy parts of her abdomen.
The rest of the cast was also very good, all things considered, but beyond them were the costume and art direction departments, which made everyone and everything appear in line with the time. I was particularly impressed with the wigs and costumes because they were obviously researched to fit the bill. It didn’t matter that they looked horrid, what was important was that they were in keeping with the epochs’ looks.
Fittingly, both departments were nominated for and won awards.
All this to say that ‘Gam Gai’, even though it lacks the humour it purports to deliver, is a solid film; with adjusted expectations, it would likely please most viewers. The only reason I rate it as low as I do, really, is because I can’t get over the disappointment that I feel in not having laughed throughout. I would have wanted something different from it and for some reason can’t get over it.
But, for the record, I liked it better the second time around. It may not be a solid gold movie, but this chicken also didn’t lay an egg; it will no doubt be a grower over time.
Date of viewing: September 2, 2013