Country: Hong Kong
Director: David Lam
WORTH A LOOK
Well, I’ll say one thing for Girls Without Tomorrow. They let you know what’s coming right up front, starting with the title. This is an incredibly depressing movie.
Girls Without Tomorrow tells the story of five different women who get drawn into the world of prostitution, for various reasons.
Now, being a prostitute anywhere kind of sucks, but places like Hong Kong are a special hell for prostitutes. Hong Kong is ruled by neo-conservative politics. That means that there are next to no public services. Everything is for-profit. That means if you want to go to school, you pay. If you’re sick and you need to go to the hospital, pay or die. If the breadwinner in your family has an industrial accident and can’t work, fuck you. Die. Such policies wipe out the middle class, leaving a few extremely wealthy people and a large underclass.
And socially speaking, in 1988, women were second class citizens. They couldn’t get decent jobs that paid a living wage. And, if they were caught being prostitutes, no one would ever let them forget it. Their lives were ruined. Worst of all, women were so brainwashed that they themselves believed that they were worthless once they dropped their pants for money.
It’s the perfect setup for tragedy and boy, does Women Without Tomorrow ‘88 deliver on that.
Tsui Tsui (Petrina Fung) is a mom who goes on the ho stroll after her husband Shao Feng (Stanley Fung) develops kidney disease and needs a transplant. Jenny Lin (Maggie Cheung) is an actress who is pimped out to wealthy men by her agent. Now, as hard is this is to believe, actresses were EXPECTED to do this sort of thing back then in Hong Kong. Ling Yu (Elsie Chan) and Shan Shan (Carrie Ng) are hostesses in a nightclub. Finally, Fei Fei (Yu Sin-Man) gets drawn into the business by her scummy boyfriend Bobbie (Danny Poon).
Women Without Tomorrow ‘88 is such hard going that I had to stop the movie in the middle and come back to it. At one point, Bobbie meets Fei Fei’s little sister, who looks like she’s about twelve years old, and tries to recruit her into the life. It all goes about as badly as it can. Hardly any of the scumbags get punished. One of our heroes get sent to prison for 9 years for using a stolen ID to get her friend into the hospital, who is bleeding out in the emergency room. And that’s presented as a happy ending!
I dunno. The writing (script by Joan Lau, Raymond To, and Tommy Sham) and direction by David Lam are fine and the performances are between good and excellent (Petrina Fung and Maggie Cheung are the standouts here), but this portrayal of Hong Kong as a living hell is so devoid of hope that it’s hard to imagine anyone but a masochist enjoying Women Without Tomorrow.
The filmmakers seem to think they are engaging in straight reportage, without making value judgements. In reality, they have created a blistering indictment of male chauvinist piggery and a society governed by neo-conservative concepts. That, for me, was the main point of interest.
One more interesting thing, for those who want to put on their sociological thinking caps. One of the plot points is that one character gives another character AIDS by casual contact. She is told to go home and clean all her utensils with bleach. It is hard to believe that the filmmakers were so ignorant about the transmission of AIDS back in 1988, but there you go.
I have to admit that Women Without Tomorrow is a good film (hence the 3 1/2 stars), but it’s about as much fun as a root canal without anesthetic. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t watch films to feel angry and sad.
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