Queen Of Kowloon (2000)
Directed by: Clarence Fok
Ah Si (Deannie Yip) is essentially the maid but also called the second wife of Tung Ka-Ming's (Kwan Hoi-San). The first wife is Heung (Ha Ping) whose daughter Irene (Suki Kwan) is also in fact the adopted daughter of Ah Si's. These are relationships and connections that annoys Heung especially and she makes the hard working Ah Si feel unwelcome most of the time. But being money minded and making sure everyone around her in the housing estates are well fed and looked after (in particular Irene who with Ah Si's help opens a bakery), Ah Si is a saint to most as long as there's no tragedy looming. Of course it strikes as Ka-Ming and Heung die in a bus crash and via emotions within tragedy, Ah Si is the easiest one to blame. Challenged but never taken down, she takes it upon herself to fulfill the promise to take care of Irene...
Although there is an air of versatility in Clarence Fok's body of work, he's clearly made a home in cinema pushing buttons to the extreme and also making sure to add a hyper sense stylistically. Naked Killer, Remains Of A Woman being standouts and Fok taking on Hong Kong melodrama in 2000 is to say the least an interesting, a bit dangerous prospect. For someone who likes his filmmaking aspects big, Queen Of Kowloon presents an obvious trap. I.e. to push the melodrama a bit too far and then some. Fok falls into the trap, gladly even and although Sharon Hui's (The Lovers, Love In The Time Of Twilight) writing does its best to become increasingly implausible, Fok destroys potentially good material throughout most of the film.
Getting the various relationships and connections sorted is a challenge in itself but through a pleasant, soothing score and location shooting on streets similar to Kowloon or IN Kowloon, Fok goes for that street level realism that could work magic for a Hong Kong drama (especially recently in Ann Hui's award winning The Way We Are). Something about the overall upbeat acting spells trouble though. You won't have any trouble understanding why the loyal Ah Si is the superhero-like helper for all those she loves around her though. It's an admirable center piece of the film as presented initially and means all the more on paper because it's a character relegated to the background in a symbolic manner and quite literally at times too. But reactions from those around her, either from Ha Ping's negative Heung or Suki Kwan's Irene are suffice to say off acting-wise and big even when we've not entered the mega-tragic sections of the film. It seems Fok gets it but doesn't have the faintest idea of how to pull of naturalism. Only through Deannie Yip we can buy that she puts on somewhat of an act to hide certain emotions. To veer of feelings of being lonely possibly. Will tragedy force the acting switch to normal then? Nah.
As the blame is hurled towards Ah Si, especially when Irene's husband Chan (Wayne Lai) is revealed to still be married to another woman with kids, Queen of Kowloon starts to abandon its not so subtle happy tactics for somber, way over the top ones. Again, structurally the story has some sense as eyes are more opened the longer you get from the instinct that says point fingers at the second wife. Characters instead make choices based on the reality of the situation but this reality is simply too much during a short time. Without revealing anything, I'll say that one tragedy is not enough and the sad state of Irene is built upon in such a heavy handed manner that it becomes genuinely aggravating. And bad to boot.
Yea yea... there's reconciliation somewhere at the end of the rainbow and the themes of sacrifice and love gets planted in the saint of a character that is Ah Si. At times well handled by Deannie Yip but often also wrongly controlled by director Clarence Fok, no other actor or crew really gets it done and Queen of Kowloon wastes a good, basic story set in a natural Hong Kong world by almost completely wrecking it with otherworldly bad luck. They don't win the argument against the viewer or critic that it's a valid, extremely emotional time.
The DVD (Universe):
Video: 1.77:1 non-anamorphic widescreen.
Audio: Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0.
Subtitles: English, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.
Extras: The trailer and basic Star's Files for Deannie Yip and Suki Kwan.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson