Girls Without Tomorrow (1988)

Directed by: David Lam
Written by: Joan Lau, Raymond To & Tommy Sham
Producer: Joe Chan
Starring: Petrina Fung, Maggie Cheung, Elsie Chan, Carrie Ng, Chui Sin-Man, Stanley Fung, Chaai Chun, Anthony Tang & Danny Poon

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5 hostesses (Petrina Fung, Maggie Cheung, Elsie Chan, Carrie Ng and Chui Sin-Man) are trying to make a living within the profession, besides it and in some naive way, past it...

Also known as Call Girl '88, David Lam's second film of that year (1*) also was made into a 1992 variant ALSO known as Girls Without Tomorrow so it's another classic example of Hong Kong movies tying knots on themselves (2*). Especially so since Lam co-directed that one. At any rate, Lam certainly knew how to push and punish in Women's Prison so within what today is a crowded genre in itself (the hostess movie) Girls Without Tomorrow does find a place.

With images of people dancing in the street, times are peachy in 1988 as Lam paints an image of the hostess profession as rather sweet and glamorous. Maggie Cheung's Jenny is even seriously plowing a career path as a soap actress alongside her other income. Lam has an ordinary, naturalistic view on things but early on begins to drop hints of subtlety and what we are heading towards. 1997 is an issue and seemingly throwaway shots of urban Hong Kong speaks of mainly three things. One that it's a land of dream and dreamers, lost ones as well as a land where behind the walls morals has taken a holiday. The hostess girls within this life do know the rules of the game and are smart enough to play it into their own favour. Using con schemes are ready options as men are weak, incredibly horny and perverse animals anyway. An exaggeration for sure yet not much has changed. Women and their bodies are taken for granted. Still recognize this notion?

In a way by giving us hostess after hostess pleasing their clients, the portrayal takes on a slightly more disturbing nature without necessarily going graphic on us. This is especially increased when we watch rebellious girl Fei Fei (Chui Sin-Man) is transition towards darkness, being played by corrupt forces promising her a better place. Do you chose to be molested for free or for money? Although she doesn't willingly chose that life after running away from home, there are only bleak choices. Somewhere around here the viewer should be reminded about the dvd title of the film and prepare. I'm sure though that the verdict up to a point for Girls Without Tomorrow is that of an effort not following in the wake of a bunch of others but an effort trying to stand on its own feet. And that would be true.

Resembling Short Cuts and Magnolia looking at the very basic story structure, director Lam clearly rocks back and forth quality-wise throughout. While the focus on the various girl's back stories, connections and turmoil is no doubt a compelling one, some of those connections are less dealt with and therefore forced when in focus (Carrie Ng and Elsie Chan's bond for instance) but Lam, working from Joan Lau, Raymond To & Tommy Sham's screenplay still has diverse facets to play with when it comes to his characters. And indeed, at one point they all go to hell in quite a swift move into a depressing few final reels. His female performers mostly respond, especially Petrina, Maggie and the fresh Elsie Chan but there's also slips into heavy-handed melodrama that no doubt is the blame of our director.

It kind of doesn't stray despite. Issues of Petrina Fung's character attempting to live her life as a house wife as well, mainly dealing with her husband's (Stanley Fung in a fine supporting performance) medical costs is treated realistically even though it's easy to see that harsh choices are going to be inflicted upon them (and us) by the filmmakers. Yet it's choices having much to do with the the unpredictable, frail minds of people and certainly in the end, is a metaphor for the decline of the real Hong Kong as Hong Kong people know it. Lam gets himself into trouble a little bit with his various commentaries on government forces and what the future holds but an effect is certainly accomplished, despite the arguably unfair events that he unleashes upon the various characters.

Life does suck for many on screen and you all have different opinions why that can't be translated into valid cinema. You know who you are that can embrace this and if your excursions in the hostess genre has been through the likes of Bet On Fire or Moon, Stars & Sun, Girls Without Tomorrow holds more of a character drama focus that does sacrifice a lot of characters but doesn't float into exploitation territory as such. Extremely distressing at points, David Lam, despite bumps along the way, still has on his resume one of the frontrunner's in this sub-genre.

The DVD:

Mega Star presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.77:1 approximately, with anamorphic enhancement. Containing some wobbly frames and heavier damage, the presentation remains serviceable throughout despite also sporting pale colours. Contrast is noticeably off but doesn't present a big problem.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 remix doesn't contain any new effects but has that trademark, annoying echo that Mega Star managed to get into some of their conversions to 5.1. A Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also included.

Only a fair amount of sloppy errors appear in the optional English subtitles. Otherwise the translation is a few notches above average for a Hong Kong film of this time. Japanese, Korean, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese subtitles can also be selected.

Standard Mega Star extras appear. About The Film holds the written plot synopsis, cast & crew credits (with a single, short bio for Maggie Cheung included). The theatrical trailer for Girls Without Tomorrow and a promo trailer for Mega Star dvd's finishes the supplemental experience.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson

(1) His other contribution to the cannon of movies that year was another female dominated film, the extensively gritty and violent Women's Prison.

(2) For example, between 1995-2000 there were five films produced bearing the English title Those Were The Days.