The Golden Girls (1995)
Directed by: Joe Ma
Nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1996:
1965 and Hong Kong cinema is thriving. A trio of struggling actresses, Ball (Anita Yuen), Lulu (Ada Choi) and May (Paulyn Sun), will get their chance eventually but it starts with May quickly quitting the industry in favor of marriage. Lulu soon receives her big break as the new cinema queen of drama while Ball is not considered worthy of lead status due to her boyish looks. She catches the eye of prolific screenwriter Chun Wei (Lau Ching Wan) though who is determined to get her genuine talent up on the screen as well as winning her heart. Ball eventually loses faith and travels back to her cousin in Borneo despite Chun Wei confessing his strong feelings for her. Instead Lulu and Chun Wei engage in a relationship but the trio of characters will go through their biggest emotional tests of all when Ball returns and finally achieves great success...
Released fairly early on in Joe Ma's directorial career, The Golden Girls represents yet another venture for Ma into past nostalgia (also see Over The Rainbow, Under The Skirt) but what is more gratifying to see is that Ma displays thorough dedication to his storytelling. Nowadays his boat is full with both writing, producing and directing duties left and right that have left his voice as a filmmaker numb, with the exception of one of Hong Kong cinemas's finest gems of the last few years, Funeral March (that also gave us a rare good performance from Charlene Choi).
Reuniting one of Hong Kong cinemas most winning screen couple after Chow Yun-Fat and Cherie Chung is only part of the winning experience The Golden Girls is. Romantic comedy definitely is difficult and it's also easy to get lost in your own laziness and present the age old content in an age old way that registers dull. Ma feels inspired here as he takes us back and through a golden era of Hong Kong filmmaking in the 60s/70s and shows that not much has changed since then.
The studio, that may very well represent Shaw Brothers or Cathay sees the acting pool living and being trained at the grounds while being courted by the various creeps amongst the cast & crew. One such potential creep is Lau Ching Wan's Chun Wei, looking and feeling more like a playboy than anyone having an ounce of dedication in him. Initial perceptions are wrong and he instead represents the bright light in the portrayal of a cynical film business as he's a script writer trying to inject quality, not audience pleasing aspects just because that's what the demograph shows. Few studios showcase a willingness and courage to go with untested and unconventional talent, even today.
The Golden Girls never turns dark though despite male chauvinism residing within this particular studio system. From the loving bond between the actresses to the eventual full on jump to a romantic triangle drama, Joe Ma brings a playfulness and a lighthearted nature to the film but rightfully stays within a mature frame of mind in the portrayal of our main characters buried feelings. Someone like Wong Jing would've played up the wackiness all too great and I could even consider today's Joe Ma being equally wrongful. Give credit to the man today as a producer though as he has stood behind more non-mainstream and mature works (Juliet In Love) and you definitely feel a genuine commitment in his 3rd feature here.
We go very much expected places in the romance genre here but when successful, Hong Kong filmmakers have employed a sincere stance to scenarios that never really can be fresh again. If you have likeable characters, the right weight and even unexpected weight can be brought to the surface. In the case of The Golden Girls, it probably needed to be a full on sedated drama to achieve depth but nonetheless Ma and scriptwriter Cheung Chi Sing manages to go affecting places.
Much thanks to the trio of actors at hand though. 2 years after the breakthrough for the sorely missed Anita Yuen and flailing actor Lau Ching Wan in Derek Yee's C'est La Vie, Mon Cherie, the chemistry is nowhere near diminished. The characters naturally do not seem to fit each other initially but through some expected narrative beats, greatly enhanced by the chemistry of the two, the epic romance takes on the requisite sweet and touching feel. The one in the middle, Lulu, played by the talented Ada Choi is equally good as the best friend of Ball's. That their bond will be tested along the way we know and it's fitting to see that the writing never allows her or either character to grow unsympathetic in the process but instead display the natural reacting ways in the face of friendship about to be broken. Paulyn Sun, Wong Yat-Fei, Cheung Tat Ming, Josephine Koo, Lee Lik-Chi and Vincent Kok also appear. Francis Ng has a funny cameo as the actor with the big ego that always surfaces in these movies, a character that eventually turns up in Jimmy Wang Yu-esque films.
There actually exist actual gems with thought and dedication in Joe Ma's filmography, both now and then. The Golden Girls came early on when Ma was a relative fresh directing kid on the block and it allows the love for old movies and old fashioned romance to flourish thoroughly. Delightful, and helping along is the classic teaming up of Lau Ching Wan and Anita Yuen, both of which are sorely missed in these kinds of roles. Someone needs to reunite them now in the new millennium. Derek Yee, are you listening?
Mei Ah presents the film in a 1.74:1 aspect ratio approximately. Print damage is kept low, colours of the 60s era suitably eye popping but contrast is a few notches high resulting in a more flat image than it should be. It's an early Mei Ah disc and it looks the part certainly though.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track doesn't display much range which is fine but dialogue throughout sounds too harsh. A Mandarin 2.0 dub is also included.
The optional English subtitles comes with a few spelling and grammar errors (shift becomes shit in one sentence) but seems to be of generally high standard otherwise. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.
Extras come in the form of trailers for The Golden Girls, The Most Wanted and Mei Ah's legendary awful Databank.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson