China Dolls

OK – try and not laugh – but the Yipster gives perhaps her very best dramatic performance in this dark and downbeat film. No, I am not talking best actress award or anything like that, but she is surprisingly effective as a woman caught in circumstances and bad luck beyond her control and doing her best to simply cope and survive. This being an Amy Yip film it does of course have elements of exploitation to it – but Amy herself plays it straight for the most part. Considering the many opportunities that the film has for the Yipster to go over the top, it is disappointingly subdued. That does not go for the other female characters though as the film does have that obligatory big communal shower scene!

Amy’s husband is throwing a party for some friends – triad members – to introduce them to his wife and celebrate his marriage. Things quickly go very wrong. Our first sighting of Amy is her breast – her right one to be more specific – and there is a baby attached to the end of it breast feeding (poor kid will never be the same!). Slowly the camera pans upward, but I was already reasonably confident that it was going to be Amy at the other end of that breast – and it was – looking like a very content mother.

One of the triad partygoers walks by – sees the partly unclad Yipster and tries to rape her. Her husband shows up and kills the guy in the ensuing brawl. He turns out to be the brother of the triad boss – and soon husband, wife and baby are on the run with the triads and the cops after them. They make it to HK territory – but in a shootout with the cops the husband is killed. This is the moment for one of Amy’s great dramatic scenes as on bended knee and tears in her eyes she begs one of the cops – Lam Ching-ying - to allow the baby to stay in HK where it will be free and she will go back to the mainland. He takes pity on her and agrees.

A few years later Amy runs into Wu Ma who seems to be a kindly enough fellow looking for waitresses to work in Macao. Amy and some other girls agree and are smuggled to the island. Of course it turns out that Wu Ma is anything but kindly as he is a procurer of prostitutes. The girls are hosed down (where amazingly it turns out that only Amy remembered to bring any underwear!) and then “motivated” by Charlie Cho to use their good looks to make money. For days on end the girls are brainwashed to join the “management” as they call it. Clearly it is a poke at the Communist Party – and later they refer to the girls being freed from their debts in fifty years.

Amy and Wu Ma
The Yipster holds out till the end but then Ma (after giving his feet a Yip message) promises Amy that she will be able to find her son after she pays off her debt. She agrees and soon becomes the most popular girl on Macao – her first customer is a dwarf who can’t get enough of Amy. She is then forced to perform a striptease show and though highly reluctant – is of course a complete natural once on the stage! (though nothing could ever equal her hilarious strip tease in Easy Money).
The ever sleazy Charlie Cho and Amy
From there though the film starts getting quite nasty and brutal at times and you can’t wait for all these sleazy guys to get theirs. In the end there is a huge shootout between an endless supply of triad bad guys and the cops – and good old Lam Ching-ying shows up again to have a go at Wu Ma.
Lam Ching-ying and Amy
Though this film turned out to be much grimmer and less exploitive (in terms of Amy) than I was hoping for, it was not at all bad – even involving at times – and it certainly gave Amy her best dramatic role ever and I thought she did a credible job.

I hate seeing bad things happen to the Yipster and so while watching the film that was my prime concern. I had no desire to see her brutalized - but other than a few slaps, having your husband killed in front of you, losing your son, being forced into prostitution and taking a few bullets in the gut not too much happens to her! Thats a walk in the park for a HK film.

My rating for this film: 6.0