HONG KONG 2010 Directed by: Kenneth Bi Produced by: Kin Hung Ng Cast: Michelle Wai, Seli Xian, Minyi Wang, Una Lin, Deep Ng, kwok Cheung Tsang, Eric Tse
It’s not the first time youth prostitution is the subject of a movie, and it’s also not the first time that it’s hard to say how serious or exploitative the result is. Is it a film about prostitution, is it a film with prostitution as a mere canvas, is it a film against prostitution, or is it actually just a T&A show?
To be fair, GIRL$ doesn’t fall into the good old CATIII category because of its exploitative nature. As it turns out, GIRL$ is a halfway serious attempt of halfway serious filmmaking. The story follows four girls who turn to paid “dating” for reasons that are not always entirely clear, but are in any case superficial. Expensive handbags or sheer boredom are hardly good reasons to sleep with someone for money. Or is it just one of the choices that is within easy reach in our multi-options-society? Maybe it’s the internet’s fault: technological advancement makes prostitution so damn easy.
When I mentioned “reasons” before, I believe that wasn’t precise enough. The reason, the goal, might be obvious, but what’s missing is a motivation. You might want that handbag, but that doesn’t tell much about the fact that you choose to pimp out yourself to the highest bidder in order to get it. So what the movie does is primarily dealing with objectives, and showing us that for these girls prostitution is a way to get there. What GIRL$ doesn’t explain is why the handbag is so important that the means to the end are completely out of proportion.
Mr. Bi is not explaining to the audience what’s really going on. GIRL$ is much more like a report on an extreme lifestyle than an essay on morals and declining standards of society. There is little context here, it’s a black-and-white world: you turn to prostitution for some pocket-money or you don’t. As is the case with the girl who bids on an internet auction. Mr. Bi makes it seem as if there are only two choices: not to have the money to pay up for the goods or to go on a paid date.
And I think that is where GIRL$ is just wrong: instead of touching on the decision-making process, the motivation behind, the question of right and wrong or at least somewhat conscious actions, the film is presenting reality as a pre-determined road to perdition with a predictable outcome: sooner or later you will be a prostitute. So it’s all not so much a matter of why you become a prostitute, it’s only a matter of when.
Great films like Masato Harada’s BOUNCE CO GALS have proven a long time ago that contemporary cinema can deal with the harsh reality out there and make it all mean something, without being a boring discourse on changing times. That doesn’t require a huge budget or funny tricks, all it requires is real insight and detailed observation. Something Mr. Bi doesn’t prove to have: GIRL$ has probably been written with a couple of newspaper articles as source material and a bit of he said she said that he said that she told him gossip.
GIRL$ could have been an insightful film providing us with a proper learning curve about what makes the youth tick, what they really want and what their state of mind is. Instead it turns out feeling like a “desk job”: a case made up more or less well, without ever reaching the depth you’d achieve if you had ever left that desk in the first place.
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