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The film starts out well and ends pretty badly, but you'll want to stay all the way to the end for the cameo in the credits anyway.
Prostitution, so they say, is the world's oldest profession. It's the rather ingenious idea at the heart of the first two films in the Golden Chicken franchise: the notion that a kindly prostitute who has seen it all can tell a unique, timely story of the ebb and flow of the city in which she struggles to survive. The first film was warmly received; the second less so, but both films have nevertheless found their way into Hong Kong's cultural lexicon.
Ten years later, beloved comedy veteran Sandra Ng has reunited with director Matt Chow (who co-wrote the script of the first film) for Golden Chicken 3 (mysteriously named Golden Chickensss). Many of the same elements remain in the mix: kindly prostitute Kam (Ng), now a mamasan (think mother hen herding a flock of chicks towards their nightly engagements); a raft of cameos from Hong Kong's movie royalty (including Anthony Wong, Donnie Yen, and a great end-credits appearance from a true-blue superstar); and a storyline that reflects the social changes unfolding in the fastest-moving city in the world. Unfortunately, Chow combines them in an awkward three-act structure that repels rather than compels.
The film reunites audiences with Kam by showing how her life has changed with the advent of technology. She sets up appointments via Whatsapp, cleverly disguised as messages from work, and shepherds the girls in her charge to big, splashy parties to entertain businessmen all night. Life seems to be going quite well when Kam is blindsided by the news that Gordon (Nick Cheung), a mafia boss who treated her well many years ago, will soon be released from a decade-long stint in prison.
Golden Chickensss may bear a passing resemblance to its two predecessors, but is really an awkward Frankenstein of a movie. It's stitched together from so many disparate parts that it's hard to view it as a coherent film. There's the sunny first act, which re-acquaints us with Kam it's packed with little incidents, jokes and cameos that feel fun and festive, and is wholly in keeping with Golden Chickensss' Chinese New Year release date. Louis Koo gamely rocks up as a celebrity impersonator hired by Kam to fulfil the lustful wishes of a dying widow with Shakespearean proclivities. Ridiculous, sure, but nevertheless oddly charming.
It then segues into an uncomfortably raunchy and tasteless segment set in Japan, where Kam and her two protégés decide to pick up more essential skills to improve their business prospects. In an oral sex shop run by Edison Chen (a casting choice that's either brilliant or horrific, depending on your views regarding his 2008 sex-photos scandal), a few gags (no pun intended) work, but most of them don't. It all amounts to a short burst of scenes so random and pointless in the overall context of the film's plot that one wonders why they were shoved in at all except to prove that Ng really would do absolutely anything for the sake of comedy.
Finally, Kam's reunion with Gordon which takes up the final, unfortunately hefty chunk of the film dips into the realm of predictable melodrama. The focus shifts, unwisely, away from Kam and onto Gordon, which means that Golden Chickensss invariably deflates without the benefit of Ng's shining charisma. Cheung is a fine actor, but his part is so leaden and stereotypical that you might find it hard to care as he tries to figure out the complexities of text messaging and a world that doesn't need the likes of him anymore. There's a ham-fisted attempt to make a comment about the dizzying changes in Hong Kong society, but it doesn't really work in the way it was intended.
As the film lurches from moment to moment, it's really Ng who holds it all together. Even in the weighty final act, when she's almost criminally sidelined, she radiates a sweet joy that makes it all bearable. She clowns her way cheerfully through the lacklustre script, right through to the big sing-along finale that follows on rather uncomfortably from the Gordon sub-plot.
Ng has also found a surprising treasure in Ivana Wong, a pop singer who goes all out as Kam's weirdest protégé: a sex worker who plays the fool to survive in the business. In all the comic mayhem, Wong shares a surprisingly tender moment with a male hooker (Ronald Cheng) who intimately understands what she goes through to get by every day.
Anyone with fond memories of the first two Golden Chicken films might want to brace themselves for a bit of a shock. Golden Chickensss is evidently trying to capture that same magical blend of comedy, pathos and social realism, but falls apart beneath an unwieldy three-act structure that does its characters no favours.
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