Queen of Temple Street
Reviewed by YTSL
A prostitute drama whose Category III rating
comes from the foul language which liberally issued from the mouths of
its major characters rather than revealing nudity on the part of anyone.
A quality production directed by the South African-born talent alternately
credited as Lawrence Ah Mon and Lawrence Lau, starring the debut-making
Rain Lau alongside the much-respected Sylvia Chang. At the very least,
you know you have something unusual when both the above descriptions apply
to the same film which also got described by Paul Fonoroff around the time
of its release in 1990 as "the best Cantonese movie to be produced in a
long time" (See his "At the Hong Kong Movies", 1998:84).
Like many of the other Hong Kong films which sympathetically
yet grittily depict the lives, hopes and disappointments of women who choose
or feel obliged to sell their bodies -- or that of others -- for a living,
QUEEN OF TEMPLE STREET has a realistic even if melodramatic feel to it.
Also, as with "Girls Without Tomorrow", "Call Girl 92", "Candlelight's
Woman" and "Night Club", the accent is very much on showing those involved
in the skin trade as human beings with friends (of whom many are fellow
workers) and family (quite a few of whom depend on the income that their
mothers, wives and lovers earn by satisfying the sexual needs of whoever
can and is willing to pay for these services).
Through it all, this thoroughly unromantic
effort -- as can be seen by one woman's assertion that she doesn't maintain
relationships with men for longer than three months on account of their
invariably revealing their not very nice true selves after that time --
absolutely does not skirt the fact of prostitution not being the cleanest,
easiest and most pleasant way to earn money. At the same time, QUEEN
OF TEMPLE STREET celebrates the resilience of those females who are often
way tougher than others around -- or who think they are better than --
these often downtrodden yet not completely downhearted characters.
No where in the (largely) Mongkok-located film is this more evident than
when the following words get uttered by the movie's protagonist:
"A toast to women. All women who without fathers, without mothers,
without husbands still survive. Still stand on their own feet."
Nonetheless, an argument could be made that QUEEN
OF TEMPLE STREET is less about a mamasan and a dance club hostess who finds
added, and more, financial benefits from "sleeping" with men in motels
and elsewhere and more about a mother and her daughter, and their quarrelsome
relationship. Sylvia Chang splendidly portrays the movie's title
character -- referred to by many as Big Sister Wah -- as a good woman who
has made many mistakes in her life, chief of whom are: Not having
been as good a daughter to her deceased mother as she should have; and
not having been as good a mother to the daughter she rebought after selling
off as well as unsuccessfully tried to abort. Rain Lau is absolutely
convincing as the rebellious Yan who leaves school and home at the age
of fifteen to strike out on her own by way of following in her mother's
When this pair of characters are encountered in
QUEEN OF TEMPLE STREET, they are at points in their lives and relationship
where things can still work out, if only the requisite willing effort is
made to interact and communicate in a manner that is more respectful and
thoughtful than had previously been the case. As such, there can
be no more whacking -- and scarring of -- the face of one with a bunch
of keys. Ditto re there being no more inciting of the other to hot-tempered
anger with slurs and other comments about her (im)morality. Plus
no more cat fights in police stations, or disbelieving such as the ability
of the daughter to pass an English exam without having cheated! And
definitely no more hiding the identity of her biological father from her...
Lest it be thought otherwise, here's attesting
that this well-directed film doesn't contain terribly maudlin or other
heavy-handed moments. Additionally, QUEEN OF TEMPLE STREET actually
does have some light and dark humored segments that help the viewer(s)
to see that sometimes, it really might be so that it's darkest before dawn.
It also ought to be pointed that Sylvia Chang and Rain Lau are ably supported
by a fine cast that includes: Alice Lau, veteran actress Ha Ping,
veteran actor Lo Lieh, the luminescent Josephine Koo and perennial trooper
Yuen King Tan. Although their parts -- along with others whose names
I do not know -- are small, they often are quite memorable as well as do
contribute to the local color and seriously genuine feel that this highly
recommended offering has in spades.
My rating for the film: 9.