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).

Sylvia Chang and Rain Lau
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."

Sylvia and Ha Ping
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 professional footsteps.
Lo Lieh, Sylvia, kids and Rain
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.