Once delivering comedy and horror at Shaw Brothers in the form of My Darling Genie and Seeding Of A Ghost (but in his 3rd decade as director), Richard Yeung working the shady 90s of Category III adult movies produced this and also the dependently nasty Bloody Beast with Lawrence Ng the year after. China Girls isn't able to avoid being placed in the same camp as numerous hostess movies (Category III or otherwise) such as Moon, Star & Sun, Escape From Brothel and Girls Without Tomorrow but despite the III rating (featured as part of the cover design for the laserdisc), it's a movie that treats its template with a welcome light touch. Yes, harsh and sad things do happen but there's clearly also attempts at a satire that doesn't pan out so largely, Richard has a limp movie that walks on its own legs sporadically. It's enough to be valid, partially.
A group of four Mainland immigrants are gathered up by pimp Wan (Patrick Keung) who employs them as prostitutes. The girls have prepared though and knows that in order to utilize the 3 months stay well, they want to be high class working girls. It's all mostly going according to plan but then Wan's plans for the girls is revealed...
It's a shame initial tangents showing Wan having a nightmare about the Mainland immigrants he's clearly used several times isn't followed up on. Director Yeung seems to accept a challenge in this opening scene to be a bit goofy, quirky, off-beat but also to avoid the punishing because there's unusually strong women at his disposal this time around. Unsubtle editing with trains going into tunnels to symbolize what goes on behind a closed door at the beginning trial run of one of the women is dumb enough to be noticeable and China Girls really has a refreshing energy. But it halts, despite unusual intentions.
Yeung decides not to stray into broad, loud territory either but instead brings out as much as you can in an exploitation picture the no nonsense attitude these women have. They'll squeeze money out of their customers with a certain cunning nature and it's not either that they are jolly or naive. They are the polar opposite of the Mainland girls that are dropped off later in the film. Even despite enduring longing for the homeland and even nasty rape, they won't go down without a fight and we get a refreshing non violent take on revenge. Humiliation meets humiliation, none more so successful when Stuart Ong gets his comeuppance.
I'm sure that the story is an echo of a familiar reality lived and observed and at some points there is a sense of the girls not being able to stay on top or in control. But Richard Yeung doesn't stray and aims fairly well at a few points for a relaxed tale of prostitution where possibly the female isn't going to come out with a scarred memory like the route usually is when scripting is done for these movies. China Girls deserves that pat on the back but also the point of finger at the opportunities for laughs and satire it squandered. Valid... partially.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson