Reviewed by YTSL
If this movie were made by other than Hong
Kongers, I could imagine the hue and cry that might greet public screenings
of it. This is not so much because it's a bad(ly made) film but, rather,
that its portrait of Hong Kong is one which is incredibly grim -- so much
so that this (re)viewer has doubts of it being truly realistic (Otherwise,
everyone living in that territory would be horribly emotionally and/or
physically scarred by the time they reached adulthood, if they managed
to survive past their teen years. Or they are superhumans who can
endure much more mental and physical abuse than the great majority of us).
Then there is the matter-of-fact as well as emphatic assertion that 2/3s
of Hong Kong men avail themselves of the services of prostitutes (with
the unspoken suggestion seeming to be that much of the remaining 1/3 don't
do so because they possess mistresses).
To be sure, it's not as though there are no nice
and "good" people in CANDLELIGHT'S WOMAN. However, their lives seem
so inevitably and invariably full of struggle, trouble and tragedy.
Take for example that of the lead character (portrayed with characteristic
professionalism by Carrie Ng): Hung Chea, an aging prostitute with a kind
heart plus a precocious and sensitive child as well as a crippled and gambling-addicted
husband (Cheung Kwok Keung actually succeeds in making the latter character
somewhat sympathetic as well as not entirely pathetic). Then there's
her friend, Fei (played by Jan Lau): A night club hostess whose younger
sister (Rain Lau actually seems to bear a physical resemblance to the other
Lau), when we first meet her, is a tomboyish lesbian with violent as well
as -- we find out before too long -- suicidal tendencies.
Yes, to a certain extent, CANDLELIGHT'S WOMAN
is yet another melodramatic call girl movie (of which Hong Kong cinema
really does seem to have produced quite a few!). Still, while it
bears some similarities to such as "Call Girl 92" (and the 1999 "Night
Club" seems to have taken some themes from this 1995 work), it still possesses
sections and themes that could be said to be unique. The divulgence
of at least one of these would act as a major spoiler (Hence my decision
to not go near those portions of this production!). However, it seems
safe enough to disclose that one of the film's sub-plots involves the kind
of reporter (played by Lee Ka-sing) who seeks sensation so much that he
would be willing to play an active role in effecting it while another adds
some needed light touches to an otherwise dark depiction of the low and
budget end of the human skin trade.
As with "Girls without Tomorrow" and "Night Club",
CANDLELIGHT'S WOMAN's gritty call girl world is one in which the Triads
have their dirty fingers in. And like those other prostitute dramas,
those members of the Chinese equivalent of the Mafia to be found here are
not the kind of (generally) honorable rascals that populate such as "Portland
Street Blues" and the "Young and Dangerous" series from which that Sandra
Ng vehicle spun off. Instead, they are oafs, bullies and abusers
(chief of whom is a character menacingly portrayed by Shing Fui-On), about
whom Hung Chea says at one point in the film: "They are not only
playing with us. They are pushing us to dead end".
With such elements in place, it is but a foregone
conclusion that there will be conflicts and clashes between the "good"
working women -- and their friends; who include a policeman in love with
Hung Chea (portrayed by Wan Chi Keung) and a foodstall owner who has strong
feelings for Fei -- and the "bad" men. Similarly, the ending of CANDLELIGHT'S
WOMAN might not come as too much of a surprise for many. Still, I
am wagering that the viewer will care for individual characters (notably
that of Carrie Ng's Hung Chea, who seems to like eating red bean pudding
as much as Anita Yuen's "C'est la Vie, Mon Cheri" character), and that
some of their fates are less predictable than others.
My rating for the film: 7.