The Golden Chicken (2002) has been haunting me. Well, at least, the cover has. For a large part of my HK film fandom, I avoided HK comedies. Unless it was Jackie and Sammo hamming it up while kicking some butt, I didn't care. HK comedies with their big-head cartoon covers didn't do anything for me, and I even read many warnings (like in the book "Sex and Zen & A Bullet in the Head") that HK comedies penchant for wordplay and cultural references would be totally lost on Western viewers. Then, when I actually watched a few good HK comedies, I found I had been lead astray, that the cultural jokes were no more insurmountable for Westerners than the Britishisms Monty Python used. You might miss a joke here and there, but so what? Funny is funny.
But, still, when I saw The Golden Chicken's cover, those old pangs of bias started itching me. While I've learned to appreciate Steven Chow and others, HK comedy isn't really my favorite genre. But, I'm a film lover and I'll give it a chance, face my fear, and, thus, I met The Golden Chicken face to goofy cover face.
Luckless mugger Bong (Eric Tsang, an HK veteran of so many films, if you don't recognize his name or face, thats proof you just haven't seen many HK films) tries to rob Kum (Sandra Ng- Royal Tramp, She Shoots Straight) but a power blackout causes the two to become locked in the cubicle. In order to pass the time, Kam begins to tell of her life spent as a "chicken" or prostitute. She began her career in the late 70's when she was still a teenager. The homely girl had to make due with her charm and humor, eventually moving from the backroom of a fishball stand, to a massage parlor, and then a large hotel.
There are weird clients. There are famous ones (look for the superstar cameo!). There are sympathetic ones, like the kind, successful, single man who agrees to adopt her child when she unexpectedly becomes pregnant. She even has a little bit of love from a mystery client who appears to be a gangster. But, times change. The stock market crash in '87 hurts business. In the 90's, bumpkin girls coming in from the mainland begin to steal her thunder. Eventually, the hotel shuts down and she is forced back into the massage parlor business, and then she moves her wares, so to speak, into the modern age and the internet.
The interesting thread in Golden Chicken is how Kum's tales of her life parallels the economic lows in Hong Kong. It is a comedic film not content to just be funny- it also wants to comment on three decades of working class struggles. But it is a bit strange and not the most effective story because our working class hero is a prostitute and the films answer to the economically downtrodden is, "Just be happy, smile, soldier on, and everything will be okay." But, you know, it is a film that is more about comedy, not a social treatise. HK audiences made the film a hit, it was nominated for several awards, including Best Picture at the HK Film Awards, and it spawned a sequel.
Now, is it funny? Well, if you like HK comedy, you'll probably get a couple of chuckles from the film. I've never seen an HK comedy that was subtle. That isn't really a criticism, just a fact. Comedically, in every HK side splitter I've seen, the actors all seem to have attended the Lucille Ball and Jerry Lewis school of acting, that is, big, loud, mugging, and obviously aiming for laughs. It is a shamelessness, a goofiness, that, when done right, can become infectious. Sandra Ng is an HK comedic staple and she carries the entire film, quite a feat, making Kum a cartoonish, dim-witted, but earnestly good-hearted heroine. Her Drunken Master dancing is a sight to be seen, and I dare you not to chuckle at her factitious moaning when her obstetrician
is examining her nether regions, which she explains as a "professional habit."
The DVD: Panorama (HK, All Region)
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Image quality, in general terms, is pretty fair. Colors are quite vivid, and the films set design utilizes them to good effect, be it the glitzy gold glow of the nightclub or the red drenched massage room interior. The print appears pretty clean and free from artefects, however the sharpness is a bit soft and the contrast is noisy in the darker lit scenes. So, the transfer suffers in the details department, making it a so-so, average effort.
Sound: Original Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, 5.1 or DTS Surround, or Mandarin 2.0 Stereo or 5.1 Surround language, with optional Chinese or English subtitles. The English subs were mostly okay and seemed to translate the jokes fairly well. That isn't to say they were 100% perfect with mistakes like, "spanking the money."
Extras: The main version I've seen floating around were two disc sets, with the extras on the second disc (Outakes, Featurette, Trailers, Music video). What I got for review was one disc, no extras, and there wasn't a space for an extras disc inside the case. So, I assume this could be a sparser movie-only reissue? DVDTalk's HKflix link does take you to the two disc version.
Conclusion: Worth a look for HK comedy fans. I wasnt rolling on the floor with laughter, but it did keep me involved. I'm a bit puzzled about this copy. Since I cannot find any direct info on a barebones release (I'll update if I do), double check the extras when ordering.