Night Club

Reviewed by YTSL

Some days, it can feel like every other person in Hong Kong -- or at least the movies that come out of that small territory which is home to some 6.8 million people -- is a policeman/woman, triad gang member or "call girl" (Although gigolos also do populate this landscape, they don't seem to exist in as great quantities as their female equivalents).  In any case, it may well be impossible to think of even a single actor or actress who has not appeared in at least one of these guises.

In NIGHT CLUB, it is the turn of Ruby Wong -- more usually to be found assuming strong supporting roles in recent male-centric Milkyway productions (like "Expect the Unexpected" and "Running Out of Time") -- to play a Mamasan named Lai Wah, Astrid Chan (who looks like a more mature version of Gigi Leung) to portray an older prostitute, Annie Man to appear as a newcomer to the trade, and Simon Yam to take on the role of the Night Club owner-manager with a triad background.  Re the lead actress:  It is interesting how she brings the same serious and quiet purposefulness to this role that has characterized her portrayals of such as a small-time innkeeper in "Where a Good Man Goes", a bartender in "Loving You" and a firefighter in "Lifeline".  Re the leading man:  Although it initially looked like he was being asked to play against type as an old-fashioned and out-of-touch elder, Yam's charm comes through in such as the scene when he slow-dances with Ruby Wong and his character's able qualities do reveal themselves before too long.

This 1999 production tries to distinguish itself from other prostitute dramas with an incursion into triad territory, an additional focus on Ruby Wong's character's and others who work at the NIGHT CLUB's relationship with a now rebellious son (played by Kwan Tak Fai) whom she gave birth to at the age of thirteen, and director Lo Shun-chuen's claim that much of this movie is based on real life events.  The first two factors cause seemingly inevitable chopper-wielding battle scenes (N.B. Ruby Wong shows not just once but twice that she can look most impressive -- as good as Karen Mok in "Young and Dangerous 3" even when scared while doing such!) to be included in a movie whose scenes largely and equally tensely show carefree-acting but troubled-really women working at pleasing difficult men.  The point about NIGHT CLUB supposedly being based on, not just reflecting, reality may account for its sober(ing) tone but it leaves unanswered the question of what kind of audience is being sought by the makers of such an emotional downer of a movie.
Although the movie's first few minutes (which interspersed introductions to the main characters -- complete with credit information like that to be found on a TV show -- with shots of a pair of women dancing suggestively and slowly but surely stripping off their already revealing clothing) had me wondering whether this Category IIB rated film was going for the exploitation angle, it definitely soon settled into being primarily a women's (melo)drama.  This is evident in details like its being so that:  Although Mamasan Lai Wah values her relationship with her son and the NIGHT CLUB owner-manager, she is closest -- and not in a sexual way, I will point out! -- to her long-time friend who, we are told early in the film, is seeking for her twelfth year in the business to be her last; and also in the women's characters being more fleshed out than that of the men (who are generally reduced to being one-dimensional ciphers like "the problem-causing son", "the evil triad boss" and "the disgusting customer who refuses to wear a condom").  I think it illuminating too that a heated and damage-causing quarrel between two blustering male customers of the NIGHT CLUB is broken up by a female-headed police squad (Pinky Cheung makes a cameo appearance as the law-woman that the triad big brothers bow to and Simon Yam's character sugarily curries favor with).
Although NIGHT CLUB can boast a solid group of actors and actresses, it would be stretching the truth somewhat to proclaim it a high quality offering.  The obvious low budget of this production is all too evident in such as the grainy quality of the film, bad lighting effects and a script that is too full of holes -- as well as too overwhelmingly melodramatically downbeat (this is not to say though that it can't move; I was especially touched by the speech that Lai Wah gives to her son detailing the dubious milestones of her sorry youth) -- for even capable individuals like Simon Yam and Ruby Wong to entirely cover.  Still, if you are a fan of these two performers as well as female-oriented works (like I am on all three counts), this respectable enough movie ought to be worth renting and viewing (but not buying).

My rating for the film:  7.