Pretty Woman (Yeung Chi-Gin, 1991)

It’s hard to believe that such a movie exists, but it must, because I actually own the Ocean Shores DVD.
Back before Movie Trading Company became all boring and corporate, it wasn’t unusual to find import and bootleg dvds on their shelves, including some movies that could actually be called obscure. I found Pretty Woman there years ago and bought it because I figured that, at three dollars, it couldn’t be that much of a waste. Granted, I didn’t know at the time that it was a CAT III remake of the mind-numbing Julia Roberts film of the same name. I’m not sure if that would have put me off or increased my interests had I known before I bought it.
It’s a remake in the loosest sense; its plot is quite different and it doesn’t really contain any similar scenes. Rather, the script makes a half-hearted gesture towards Mimin, the titular woman, receiving a fresh start through a relationship with Lin Cha-Sin, a corporate stooge like Richard Gere in the American film. Rather, the Hong Kong Pretty Woman starts with a creep named George (Ken Tong) fantasizing about his attractive co-worker, Yin-Hsin (Veronica Yip) during a late night at the office, and deciding to rape her. Unfortunately, he accidently kills her in the process, and burns her body. By the invisible hand of fortuitous narrative coincidence, he happens across a hostess named Mimin (also Veronica Yip) in a club that looks exactly like the murdered Yin Hsin. So George asks her to go to the office and hand in a resignation letter. She agrees to do so for a price, but while she’s there, she recognizes Lin Cha-Sin (Alex Fong), a major officer within the company, is actually a man who once saved her from an attempted rape. She fancies him, and decides to replace Yin-Hsin at the company rather than turn in her resignation letter.
This enrages George, who threatens to expose Mimin and attempts to slander Cha-Sin but seems to spend most of the rest of his time having sex with one of his other coworkers (consensual, this time). It eventually leads up to the truth coming out, and Cha-Sin learning that his girlfriend is a prostitute. And you can figure out where it goes from there.
It’s not a good movie by any definition unless “good” is defined by perverts and maybe Veronica Yip admirers. Pretty Woman apparently earned a reputation by virtue of its (ahem) climax: a ludicrous ten minute long shower scene. Apparently done with the sole purpose of shooting its starlet at every possible angle, it borders on being really creepy when it ends with her breaking down and crying over the mess she’s caused. Emotional distress is not sexy unless you’re really effed up. It doesn’t help that Veronica Yip can actually act (watch Scarred Memory) and sells grief pretty well.
There are other elements that are rather endemic to movies with the CAT III classification. The office atmosphere is rather, shall we say, ribald. The male employees regularly grope the female employees and gamble on the color of their undergarments. And Wu Ma makes the obligatory “what is that actor doing here” cameo appearance as a more or less senile CEO.
Am I critiquing this as entertainment? No. I don’t find it entertaining in the way it’s meant to be. The comedy isn’t that funny; the sex is not arousing, even though Veronica Yip is a babe; and the action scenes are out of place. What I find so interesting about Pretty Woman is its cinematography. It’s not good either, but there’s something about how bleak and ugly everything looks that is almost compelling. Outdoor photography is uniformly against darkened skies -- I don’t think I ever saw a hint of blue in the horizon. The indoor scenes take place in cramped apartments and hotel rooms with shabby décor that’s at least a few years behind what one would see in an American film from the same time. The camera picks up light diffused against graying drywall while the actors perform in a shadowy foreground.
These visuals subvert -- quite accidentally, I’m sure -- all attempts to make the actual content of the movie go down easy (although not nearly so much as Yip’s crying during the infamous shower sequence). The actors might be pretending that what they’re doing is all in good fun, but there’s an ominous, almost nervous quality to the visuals that adds yet another incongruous lair to a madcap-erotic-comedy/martial-arts-action/corporate espionage exploitation remake of a vapid Hollywood film that was (at least at one point) a slumber party staple. Only in 1990's Hong Kong, my friends.
It’s a small thing on which I compliment this movie, and probably an accidental one too. The movie might look like this because it was shot on the cheap and the print degraded and the Ocean Shores DVD is pan-and-scanned to the point that the movie looks constantly claustrophobic. But it was effective enough to make me note it as I watched. I’m not really into smut unless it’s funny, like Sex and Chopsticks, so don’t take my ambivalence towards this movie as an objective reaction. My observations are probably only as good as the movie. I find it less offensive than that crap with Julia Roberts, though. Honest.

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