It’s strange how things grab your attention at the right time and make an impression. I happened upon The Golden Chicken series purely by accident. My wife speaks Mandarin and I’m always searching for movies that we can watch together and one night, a few weeks ago, I caught a few minutes of Golden Chicken 2. I flipped back and forth between the channels but something about what I saw compelled me to keep watching and by the end I decided to research this series of films.
I got ahold of Golden Chicken 1 (2002) and absolutely fell in love with it. One of the biggest problems I have with North American comedies is that although they’re always going for laughs, they really don’t balance that with anything else which makes them feel like an empty experience. GC is one of those movies that counters the laughs with heartbreaking sadness which makes it true to life and such a rewarding experience.
Now, on the surface, the GC films are sex comedies but they don’t actually have any nudity which would normally appall me since I don’t like my filth so clean but, you know what, by the end I really didn’t care.
In GC 1 we meet actress Sandra Kwan Yue Ng who plays “Kum”, yes, that’s her character’s name, although it varies depending on the subtitle translation and it also changes over the course of the films to “Kam”. She’s visiting an ATM machine late at night, during a thunderstorm, and she gets held up by a man in need of money. But he’s not a hardened criminal, just a down on his luck guy trying to rob Kum out of desperation. Unfortunately the storm shorts out the ATM electronic door locks and the two of them are trapped until power is restored. With nothing better to do and to take his mind off his troubles, Kum tells the man about her lifelong career as a prostitute, also known as a Chicken.
One of the things that hangs heavily over Golden Chicken 1 & 2 is an overwhelming sense of nostalgia as the movies are something of a love letter to Hong Kong, where they are set, despite the many highs and lows that Kum experiences as a result of her chosen profession as she reminisces about her life which has left her almost as broke as the man she’s now sharing her story with. Beginning by turning tricks at the age of 15, she eventually went on to work as the host of a club that catered to wealthy men looking for action. Not considered a great beauty, in comparison to some of the other hookers, Kum gets by with her sense of humor and upbeat personality. But her fortunes ebb and flow based upon the economy and the 1987 stock market crash forces her and some of her friends/co-workers to adjust, taking a job at a massage parlor while new technology, such as cell phones, and new social trends, like Karaoke make the movie feel like a tour of late 20th century Hong Kong.
During her life she met many unusual customers, providing the film with laughs, while the inevitable turn of time brings heartache and regret as those she cares about fall through her fingers like grains of sand in an hour glass. Looking back, she wonders if she made the right decisions which add to her character since, at first, she seems a bit oblivious to the ramifications of the choice to sell her body and doesn’t think beyond the next day which causes many of the pitfalls that she must overcome. But that’s the beautiful thing about Golden Chicken 1 as it reminds me that although life can’t always be full of sunshine and happiness, each day is a new opportunity for those who have the spirit to survive. This movie is a gem, with luscious cinematography, and if you trust my words at all you would do well to check out the first Golden Chicken at the very least because I think’s it’s one of the finest films I’ve seen.
The first two GC movies were made virtually back-to-back as part 2 came out in 2003, a year after the first film. Apart from Sandra Kwan Yue Ng, who plays Kum/Kam throughout the trilogy, GC 1&2 were Directed by Leung Chun and Samson Chiu, working on the script with various writers, and even though it eventually becomes a fitting bookend to Part 1, GC2 really doesn’t come into its own until the third act.
It might be a strange comparison but Golden Chicken 2 feels like The Godfather Part 2. I’ll explain. I know it’s blasphemy but I don’t like Francis Ford Coppola’s sequel all that much. It’s pretty much Michael Corleone consolidating his empire while losing his soul by having his own brother murdered. But Fredo was always a weasel and I didn’t really give a shit that he was given a nap with the fishes since he was a fucking idiot who couldn’t be trusted and almost got his own brother killed with his stupidity while he wasn’t much help when his own father was being shot down in the middle of a street in broad daylight. So fuck him and the horse he rode in on. I also didn’t like Hyman Roth since it was obvious that he was Michael’s true enemy and not much of a character in a sequel to a masterpiece full of fantastic adversaries played by great character actors.
No, what makes The Godfather Part 2 a worthwhile endeavor is the flashbacks to the life of Vito Corleone. The Don was iconic and his absence in the second movie is felt which is why I feel that Vito’s life story helps to make the first two films feel complete as it adds in details that we weren’t privy to in Part 1. But if Part 2 didn’t exist and those scenes had been used in the first film, I’d place The Godfather as the greatest American film ever made, surpassing even Citizen Kane.
Anywho, the first two thirds of Golden Chicken 2 are entertaining but lacking in much of the pathos that made GC1 a truly great film because it seems as if main protagonist and her life isn’t really at the heart of the story for most of the movie. Kum/Kam is still working as a prostitute but she inherits a restaurant from one of her customers who dies on her, apparently from SARS which first broke out in a neighboring province of Hong Kong. As a result of the ensuing worldwide panic over the disease, the HK economy takes a hit which not only affects Kum/Kam’s sexual proclivities but also her new business. I feel that by continuing Kum/Kam’s carnal exploits, the filmmakers missed an opportunity to show her moving away from that world and into the restaurant business which wouldn’t have made it necessary to change the film’s title as Golden Chicken could have been the name of her new restaurant.
This would have been logical since Kum isn’t getting any younger and it would have been interesting to see her deal with a new type of work that she was unfamiliar with. One of the biggest mistakes in sequels is when they slavishly follow the first films format without letting the characters evolve as people do over their lives. This essentially negates any progress that was made in the previous film as the events of GC1 don’t seem to have made any real impact on Kum/Kam’s status which makes GC2 feel like a soft reboot with a few characters brought back or new ones introduced to tie it into the previous story while other plot points/characters that were soo important are ignored. It reminds me very much of the Die Hard movies and how John McClane is always up against terrorists while he doesn’t change much over the course of the series. Maybe they should have called this Golden Chicken 2: Die Hard-On!?!
But another problem is that the first and second acts of GC 2 don’t really feel connected as a large portion of them are taken up by peripheral storylines involving a body hair obsessed trick lamenting his lost girlfriend and a Doctor feeling the pressure from his imposed isolation due to his work/SARS and everyone’s fear to get near him. And although there’s a certain amount of emotional payoff, the stories feel tacked on and don’t really add to Kum/Kam’s story which is a misstep although it could be argued that they support the final act as well as the films framing device which brings back that nostalgic feeling that made GC1 soo great.
At the be beginning of GC2, it’s the year 2046 (an in-joke to Wong Kar-wai’s long delayed Sci-fi movie which was completed and released in 2004) and we’re reintroduced to Kum/Kam who is now in her 80’s and looks virtually the same, apart from white hair, due to modern anti-aging treatments. She finds a young man heartbroken over the breakup with his fiancé as he’s about to take pills that will erase his memory as far back as he likes depending on the dosage. Kum/Kam spends the movie telling the stranger about the year 2003, the SARS epidemic and her life at the time in an attempt to convince him that even painful memories are worth having as they help to make us who we are.
One of the problems with this is that the first Golden Chicken dealt with a period over 20+ years as Kum/Kam’s life was tied to Hong Kong. But in Golden Chicken 2 we’re really only looking at a specific point during the course of a single year for the first two acts and a small portion of the third. This is one of the reasons why I think it was a mistake to rush out a sequel as quickly as they did as they should have waited for several years so that there was enough happening in the background with Kum/Kam as an observer since they really don’t have her character develop much during the year. Either that or a better idea might have been to drop the flashback structure of GC1 and adopt a more straight forward and linear narrative in which case I don’t think I would have had as much of a problem with the first two portions of GC2, apart from the atrocious curly red wig they stick on Kum/Kam during the segments taking place in 2003. I think Sandra Kwan Yue Ng is a lovely woman but that hairstyle does her absolutely no favors.
But like the flashbacks to Vito Corleone’s upbringing, which makes The Godfather 2 dovetail the first film in a satisfying manner, the third act of Golden Chicken 2 begins to tie into Kum/Kam’s life during the years covered in part one while filling in some of the cracks in both her background and some of the decisions she made. It’s this portion of the movie that makes it a worthy sequel although it needs to lean heavily on the first in order to do so. But it’s still a wonderful flick that I would highly recommend as it gives a sense of closure while leaving the door open for a sequel which eventually arrived in early 2014.
One of the good things about discovering an entire trilogy of previously undiscovered films is that you don’t have to wait for years to be disappointed with a lackluster sequel. During the 2014 Chinese New Year the third part of the Golden Chicken trilogy was released and it seems that the law of diminishing returns had finally set in. While the first two GC movies were Directed by Leung Chun and Samson Chiu, part three was helmed by Matt Chow, co-writer the first film with Chun and Chiu, who only seems to have gotten the job due to being the father of Sandra Kwan Yue Ng’s child.
In Golden Chickensss (I have no idea why Chow added the “sss” instead of just calling it Golden Chicken 3) after a rather pointless pre-title sequence on the history of prostitution, Kam is now a madam as she details how the advances in digital technology and the internet have changed the chicken racket while she uses her cellphone to hook up her girls with work while buying and selling various commodities to her clients.
This is the best part of the movie as we see how Kam operates and has adapted to the world around her while it’s episodic structure is entertaining on a scene by scene basis. But the second act sticks her with two of her protégés, Jinny Ng and Ivana Wong, the latter of which wears a set of prosthetic buck teeth over her real ones for some unknown reason, as they travel to Japan to learn blowjob techniques. What’s worse is that as the movie goes on, Kam practically becomes a supporting character in her own film. This is amplified in the last act which sees her reunited with Gordon, a local Triad crime boss ex-lover who gets released from prison after almost 20 years, as she tries to help him readjust and make him understand that things are not as they were when he went in.
Nostalgia was a big part of Golden Chickens appeal and it also helped unify it with its first sequel. But GC3’s attempts do the same in its last act just doesn’t work as Kam and Gordon have no history together outside of this movie nor does it seems as if they had a particularly memorable relationship in the first place. The thing that saved GC2 was that it added new characters that tied into Kum/Kam’s past while also using them to give us information that connected it with the first film. But GC3 doesn’t feel as though it has anything to do with the previous movies except for Kam and if not for her character’s name and Sandra Kwan Yue Ng returning to her signature role, this could have been called anything and wouldn’t have made a difference.
The disappointing thing is that despite an 11 year gap between films, Kam hasn’t developed as a person nor does she make any sort of transition by the end of the movie. It’s like I mentioned earlier about how sequels don’t build characters from film-to-film and usually press the reset button. People and plotlines that were soo important to the first two movies are forgotten when they could have been built upon to enrich and deepen Kam’s characterization, which remains stagnant, while the love and affection for Hong Kong in GC 1&2 is completely absent as the city feel virtually anonymous.
If Golden Chickensss was just a one off comedy about the misadventures of a 50’something ex-prostitute turned Madam then I could have enjoyed it. But I adored the first film soo much that it pains me to say that for the sake of Kum/Kam I hope Sandra Kwan Yue Ng never returns as the Golden Chicken!!!FACT!!!