Private Life (a.k.a. Miss Hong Kong)

It’s the eyes. Incredibly soft and beseeching, they invite you in like an orphaned child looking for warmth. They are mournful and helpless and have the power to rip out your heart in an instant. They are Joey Wong eyes and they have been mesmerizing men since she first stared into a camera lens in the mid 1980’s. Every time I see her I think of Bob Dylan’s song “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”

With your mercury mouth in the missionary times,
And your eyes like smoke and your prayers like rhymes,

With your silhouette when the sunlight dims
Into your eyes where the moonlight swims,

Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands,
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes,

It was those milkyway eyes that made her the perfect choice to play a tragic ghost looking for reincarnation in A Chinese Ghost Story. How could Leslie Cheung refuse her pleading  - how could any man? Her demure ghost in distress was to be brought back to the screen many times in other films over her career. She was to break out of this mold occasionally with a ferocious performance in The East is Red or the adorable comic girlfriend in City Hunter – but even when not playing a supernatural being, she still had the power to make men want to protect her as in the classic film My Heart is that Eternal Rose and to easily lay down their lives in front of those dreamy watery eyes.
Here she is no ghost or snake in female form – only a woman in need of love. At one point the male lead is given the choice of leading a life of luxury without love or one of poverty with Joey – is that even a choice? Not for most of us. She was in truth not an actress that showed terrific range – often boxed in with her image and the roles that were offered to her - and she retired at the very early age of 26 in 1994 due partly to an affair with a married man that became the fodder of the gossip magazines and damaged her popularity. A rare recent film appearance in Peony Pavilion (2001) showed that she may have had a lot more talent though then she was ever allowed to display.
This film (1987) is strictly for Joey Wong fans – there is really nothing at all going for it other than the opportunity to lap up her beauty by the eyeful. She is stunning throughout the film and she has lots of screen time to display it – and we get to see those eyes at their most abject. It is a tradition in Hong Kong that winners of the Miss Hong Kong pageant often go into show business, but this film would lead you to believe that there is a lesser known tradition that this title gives one the opportunity to go for – a career as an extremely high priced call girl. After her year has run out, Joey decides to go into this oldest profession – very discreetly (only outside of Hong Kong) and very costly – as she is flown to a destination for one night and then back to Hong Kong (though much to my horror she flew economy!).
After one such assignment she runs into Alan Tang at the pool and later on the plane (where their lighting up cigarettes brought back memories of those bad old days of sucking in people’s smoke for hours on the plane). He is a married man – to a freeze dried woman (Jenny Tseng) who has all the money and the authority in the marriage. In a sense Tang is doing the same thing as Joey – and though he doesn’t know what she does he quickly falls in love with her – leading to all sorts of problems – ironic considering why she left the film business years later – who says movies don’t teach you life lessons!
Of course their love affair can’t go smoothly for long – the wife realizes that Tang is looking much too happy these days and Joey has a slimy pimp who is only too willing to sell her out for the right price. Soon her life is on trial and she only has those eyes to persuade a jury and the prosecutor  (Philip Chan) that she is innocent – one look is all I would need to set her free.

My rating for this film: 5.5