Whispers And Moans (2007)
Directed by: Herman Yau
It's either that Herman Yau has decided to dig up a beast from the past or that he's gone lazy and will pull out of his hat a handful of crap this time. The past dug up is the hostess-drama as seen in Bet On Fire, Moon Stars & Sun. But that was way back when, when people paid for exploitation and Maggie Cheung WOULD lie under a big, fat man in movies. Knowing Herman Yau CAN work magic out of a consciously busy schedule, he also logically gives us cinema to not remember so where does his third flick of 2007 stand then? Yep, indeed the minor magic somehow has to be mixed in with the turds. That's Yau's destiny, his yin and yang and an unbearable attempt at a mature 100 minutes later, Whispers And Moans have balanced out Yau's ratio.
Detailing the lives of various characters within an inner city nightclub, be it actual hookers or those having retired but running the place more firmly these days, much of the problem in Yau's intentions with this Category III rated drama is probably due to a broad focus and too little distinctive characteristics. Even the at best vaguely distinctive characters are no drama slam-dunks. Attempts to show insight into various lives over the course of 8 days or so reveals many familiar beats for this story, much of which will sound actually good when writing about them. And it probably did to Yau and Yeung Yee-Shan when doing so.
So within the club, in the girl's waiting room where they share space with the Madam's (Athena Chu's Coco and Candice Yu as Jenny) of the establishment, we hear of the Mainlanders affecting the business or rather gets money thrown at them in larger quantities so the atmosphere is a grab bag. Stalking the outside of the club is a political activist (Yan Ng) who wants to fight... for the rights... of the sex workers, little of which any of them understand or want to listen to anyway. One of many scattershot and boring details of the narrative. Having Ng perform rallying speeches transforms parts of Whispers And Moans into a comedy and it completely strikes out. Jumping further wildly between characters abandoning innocence and probably will have little to no chance of returning to "normal" life, they turn their backs on marriage proposals out of shame. Venereal disease OF COURSE has its place and the panic mostly resides Athena Chu's Coco who still seems to want to have a man each day, all representing some weird notion of only wanting to be held but by many. She's a whirlwind that you care little for and when what seems like the oddest story in the film being the most compelling, that of Patrick Tang's gigolo finding comfort with a transvestite (Don Li), it's no wonder the film comes off as never finding a footing. Not because of any gripe I have with the story but that it's a a strand that should support the main ones. Not vice versa.
We almost wish we would get over the top violence and tragedy akin to Bet On Fire and Girls Without Tomorrow but that would be cheap and Herman Yau does at least keep those aspects to a logical minimum. With the harshest content being Monie Tung's drug addiction and the sister Nana (Mandy Chiang) struggling in her decision to help AT ALL, it's a small kudos to give Yau but the overall tally of Whispers And Moans means it can't flex any cinematic muscle. A serious story with poor decisions and poor skill to bring maturity out of mostly untested talent, the content of Yau and Yeung Yee-Shan's script (Yeung did an interview book on the subject prior) has its poignancy but it's not carried out, at all. This reviewer took a mental trip back to Andy Chin's Call Girl 92 and while it may have served as an influence, it is indeed still unchallenged. In 2007 when Herman Yau dabbles into this story again, he gets audience reaction EXACTLY akin to the English title. Mostly moans...
Mei Ah presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. Not terrifically vivid or sharp, most of the presentation passes in the crucial areas.
Audio options are Cantonese (with usage of Mandarin) Dolby Digital 5.1, Cantonese DTS 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 but as I'm not equipped with such a system, my assessment of this disc aspect will be left off this review.
The English subtitles fly by without many dips into grammar- and spelling errors. Perfectly understandable. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Extras-wise we get a 9 minute, 11 second standard Making Of (no English subtitles), the trailer and Mei Ah's Databank (with the usual nothing in it).
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson