Golden Chicken (2002)

Directed by: Samson Chiu
Written by: Samson Chiu & Matt Chow
Producers: Peter Chan & Jojo Hui
Starring: Sandra Ng, Eric Tsang, Crystal Tin, Chapman To, Alfred Cheung & Tony Leung Kar-Fai

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Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2003:
Best Picture
Best Actress (Sandra Ng)
Best Supporting Actress (Crystal Tin)
Best Art Direction (Hai Chung Man & Wong Bing Yiu)
Best Costume Design (Hai Chung Man & Dora Ng)

Awards at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 2003:
Best Actress (Sandra Ng)
Best Art Direction (Hai Chung Man & Wong Bing-Yiu)
Best Make-Up & Costume Design (Hai Chung Man & Dora Ng)

In the last year or so, Applause Pictures and Panorama Entertainment have made distinguishable Hong Kong cinema with produced works like The Pang Brother's acclaimed The Eye and the Hong Kong/Korea/Thailand collaboration Three. They continue to, almost quietly, make their mark on Hong Kong film with a genuine movie for Hong Kong, Samson Chiu's Golden Chicken.

A petty robber (Eric Tsang) walks into an ATM booth and desperately tries to get Kum (Sandra Ng) to hand over her account savings. Only problem is that Kum is as poor as he is and a subsequent power outage traps the two in the booth. To pass the time, Kum begins chronicling the story of her life. The life as a joyous, not so good looking, hooker trying to make a living during the most crucial times and events in Hong Kong...

That life story however isn't the most satisfying to follow. Golden Chicken, belonging to the comedy/drama genre, is not akin to total boredom but for the most part it becomes awfully close sadly. Director/co-writer Samson Chiu have previously received acclaim for smaller dramas such as Yesteryou, Yesterme, Yesterday & When I Fall In Love...With Both and certainly isn't the wrong directing choice. I should however say that Golden Chicken's existence is absolutely justified and in the end Samson has communicated a very heartfelt message about the struggling citizens of Hong Kong. That's all well and good but it can't be denied that underneath its polished surface, Golden Chicken is a trial for even the patient viewer.

Samson quickly establishes basic character arcs and decently, pace-wise, takes us through the life of our Golden Chicken (chicken is actually slang for hooker), Kum. Parallels can be drawn to Forrest Gump since she lives through some of the most happy but also painfully bad eras of Hong Kong. She isn't conveniently in the middle of it all though, just a Hongkie who is living in times like these, starting back in 1980. Being non-familiar with Hong Kong history and events proves to be no huge problem for a foreign audience because the filmmakers, without resorting to overexposition, explains well the key events such as the opening of the MTR, the effect Yuen Woo-Ping's movie Drunken Master had and the eventual economic hardships (The SARS outbreak hadn't happened at the time of the film's release). Our main character Kum, anchored very nicely by Sandra Ng, has the elements in place for a very sympathetic and uplifting character. She's probably the nicest hooker in town but probably the ugliest too, a fact that doesn't stop her from becoming a legend in the business (she has good hands...). Here, the prostitution is not portrayed as overly glamorous but not gritty either. Prostitutes or club hostesses don't work the streets and it's less of a tough environment therefore. Kum is someone we laugh with rather than at but here we have the main problem of what is the driving force of the film. She does win us over somewhat by the end but honestly, I wasn't too interested in her story. It's not actress Sandra Ng who is to blame but the script really doesn't give us much to be engaged in. Her adventures are episodic in nature and for the most part failed to interest this viewer. There are select moments of funny interaction between the customers and fellow chickens but those are mostly dealt with in the first act of the film. I think that the character is content with her life, despite having a son she's choosen never to meet, and wants to continue to make a living for as long as she can. Despite that arc, the episodes I described makes the plot rather flimsy in nature and it's not until the downbeat elements of the story enters that we begin to really care.

Everyone suffers from the economic crisis, including Kum, and Samson leaves the, only generally amusing, comedy behind and goes for our emotions instead. Golden Chicken here becomes stronger compared to its first two thirds and Samson firmly starts to plant the film's message into the audiences minds. Actually he does it through Andy Lau's cameo, quite a brilliant choice since he's such a popular icon in Asia and if I was a Hong Kong citizen I would walk away with a positive feeling about wanting to better your situation. Samson and writer Matt Chow are not being original or sophisticated with their message but that works and again, that makes Golden Chicken's existence very valid.

Where the movie does succeed fully is in the design. Veterans Hai Chung Man (director of Anna Magdalena), Dora Ng and Wong Bing Yu gives us design work of the highest caliber. The different colours and clothing of the 80s have great attention to detail and I can't really argue that it isn't correctly presented. I didn't pay attention to fashion during the 80s and I still don't now that we're past 2000. The cinematographer Jacky Tang doesn't do exemplary shots throughout but nicely captures the design work and the different eras we get to experience.

Behind the camera we have a huge list of industry veterans (composer Peter Kam and editor Peter Cheung for instance) and same applies to those in front as well. Sandra Ng, actually a very nice looking woman, is well-tailored for this comedy/drama role. Even though she starts the flashback at the age of 15, the attempt at making her younger isn't consciously well-done. It's mainly played for laugh which works also but Sandra proved in Portland Street Blues that her acting can convince us of youth, not a make-up job. Then, primarily through hair styles, she ages and emphasizes it with some good to great acting as well. She's equally up to the task of providing slapstick but Sandra's greatest strength is in acting out those heartfelt moments. In the end, despite a disinterest in the writing, you haven't been thoroughly sorry to follow this character up until 2002, much thanks to Sandra's thorough dedication.

Eric Tsang, mainly known for his comedy roles (I didn't say skills because I never found him funny) has really stepped up his drama output in the last few years. What won me over was his role in Metade Fumaca and recently, Golden Chicken and Going Home (part of the Three horror anthology) has cemented the fact that Eric is a terrific dramatic actor. He's not in this film a whole lot but his desperate wannabe robber, down on his luck because of Hong Kong's current state, is something the target audience should respond well to. He represents the common man and it's a great benefit to have someone like Eric who wins the audiences heart and sympathy. Eric's depressed looks and desperation is very honest and despite little screentime, it's a performance very much worthy of note. Along the way we get cameos from Eason Chan, Andy Lau plus solid support from Tony Leung Kar-Fai and, believe it or not, Alfred Cheung. Alfred (director of On The Run) plays Kum's doctor and while not a very important character, I liked his friendly and dry presence in this.

Golden Chicken did good business in Hong Kong and the Hong Kong people were the ones that fully identified with writers Samson Chiu and Matt Chow's message. However, I truly believe that even locally, some people could see flaws and ultimately Golden Chicken ranks as a fairly huge disappointment. The elements of a good movie are there but never flies like Samson Chiu wants to. It comes with very solid acting so if you're curious, it isn't a total waste of time. Considering the talent involved, this should've been much better though.

The DVD:

Panorama presents the film in a 1.78:1 framed anamorphic transfer. Sharpness and colour presentation looks very good but the ATM scenes does come off as a tad too dark. There are only few specks on the print but a vertical line can be seen for a short period of time in two scenes.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track (features a few scenes in Mandarin) mainly uses music and the select few sound effect to open up the soundstage. That it does pretty well and dialogue also sounds clear. Cantonese Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 tracks are also included in addition to Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 dubs in Mandarin.

The English subtitles are error free and even smoothly explains some of the wordgags in scenes where poor Cantonese is spoken by Mainland girls. A few times the subtitles repeat themselves but stays in sync the whole time. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Panorama has also included a few extras, all residing on the 2nd disc of this set. We're first treated to a cosmetics ad (also on the first disc) with Sandra Ng, looking much better than her character in the movie and the main menu offers two choices; special features and cast & crew. The latter option only has bio's in Chinese so I was quickly done looking here. Under Special Features, the first substantial supplements is The Making Of Golden Chicken. Clocking in at 12 minutes and 37 seconds, this promotional program comes without English subtitles but doesn't seem very informative anyway. The program consists of small glimpses of fun behind the scenes footage, including Sandra Ng working on her drunken master-routine and actor Chapman To getting his head shaved. A small section is devoted to the costume design and there's also quick interview bites from the with cast & crew. Overall not really worth a watch regardless if you understand what's being said or not.

The Music Video (2 minutes, 47 seconds) is actually performed by Sandra Ng, Eric Tsang and Chapman To. It combines movie clips and the actors lip syncing the tune in front of the Christmas tree. How nice. Outtakes (3 minutes, 53 seconds) will have you smirk at best when actors are flubbing their lines. At least it looked like they were having fun.

Two trailers for Golden Chicken appear and in an odd twist, feature specific footage shot for the trailer, showing Kum selling phone sex in a TV ad and Eric Tsang's character calling the service. Two nearly identical versions of this plays back to back, only difference being that Eric Tsang speaks mostly English in the second version. Trailers for The Eye and Three are also included. Note that the trailer for The Eye was never included on its own dvd so it's nice to have it represented somewhere. Also, the latter trailer only highlights Peter Chan's segment, Going Home, not the Korean or Thai shorts from Three. One annoying aspect of the 2nd disc is that after a clip or program is watched, you are thrown back to the main menu every time.

(director Samson Chiu, actors Sandra Ng & Eric Tsang on set, from the making of)

Easter Eggs are available are sprinkled around the disc in the different speech bubbles. Highlight special features on the main menu, press right to then highlight the speech bubble and you'll see a TV spot for Golden Chicken followed by a still of Kum with an accompanying chicken noise.

Go into the special features menu, highlight The Making Of Golden Chicken and press left to highlight Kum. Here we find another version of ad seen in the trailers, this time advertising the movie website. This is then followed by more chicken noise.

Finally, the trailers section has another Easter Egg. Highlight the Golden Chicken trailer and press left to highlight the speech bubble. All you get here is another movie still of Sandra, a speech bubble and Eric Tsang uttering a few lines of dialogue.

The extras doesn't amount to much but I'm not surprised this became a 2 disc set. It's a selling point after all even if you have next to zero in terms of in-depth supplements to offer.

(from the theatrical trailer)

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson