Call-Girls, The
Hong Kong 1977
Directed by Cheng Kang.

Who knew that 2008 would be the year that Hong Kong learned, in great detail, Edison Chen's sexual proclivities? Oral sex, thankfully off of the front pages of newspapers ever since Bill Clinton left the White House, shot up and spattered all over the headlines for no less than 21 days, an event now known as "Sexy Photos Gate". Because Edison took his oral fixation one further and took pictures and video of the act, and saved the overcompensating artifacts to his cute little pink Mac Book, then took it in to some computer shop for repairs, like the empty headed moron he is, everyone with an Internet connection can now enjoy the fruits of his labors. What are the actresses to do? How will the Hong Kong film industry recover? Perhaps they should take a page from the Shaw Brothers playbook and do as they did, when in 1977, there was a starlet sex scandal: make a movie out of it.

The scandal in 1977 was a bit different: the actresses were allegedly getting rented out as call-girls and making a tidy sum as a side-business out of it. Much worse than today's scandal, I suppose, but still: at least the girls back in 1977 had an angle and were earning some money. Gillian Chung, Cecilia Cheung, and the other actresses and singers involved in Sexy Photos Gate, on the other hand, were just being stupid, letting their boyfriend snap compromising pictures of them because -- what, they were in love? Wanted to please him? There's always the chance they were into it, too, but at this time, thousands of erotic photographs of various lovers have NOT turned up on anyone elses computers, so we'll have to assume this is Edison's freak show and no one elses.

THE CALL-GIRLS starts out in a faux-documentary style, with actors and directors in the Hong Kong film industry being asked about the scandal by a reporter, and echoing similar interviews from the recent scandal, they all have sympathy, and generally refuse to criticize or even comment. The movie explores the girls lives, each one harder than the last. Though it was interesting to see the movie suggest that several starlets actually started out as prostitutes before becoming famous actresses, and simply continued to turn tricks on the side as part of their contract with their agent. Others are drawn in unwittingly and become trapped under threat of blackmail. Danny Li plays the cop investigating the case, the story told as different women (Shaw "starlets" Shirley Yu and Chen Ping, among others) are brought before him at the station and he considers charging them and setting bail.

In the end, the movie asks, "Who is to blame? Who should be punished?" Let me nominate director Cheng Kang for the punishment queue, for making such a terrible film on such a salacious topic. The directors comedic vs. dramatic sensibility must be called into question, to begin with. The disturbing scene of a japanese man who prefers to use large gourds on his call girl is apparently comedy, while the hilarious scene of the call girls stripping at the funeral of one of their own and becoming nude pallbearers is apparently drama. Like many Shaw Brothers sex films, it is chock full of sex and nudity, but slathered with condemnation and disgust for the whole enterprise. The director maximizes his disgust by making sure most of the nasty men taking advantage of and abusing the women are English or Japanese.

[IMAGE: Shirley Yu from THE CALL-GIRLS, and Gillian Chung from Sexy Photos Gate. The more things change, the more they stay the same.]

In the absence of easily demonized ethnic outsiders, who then should be punished for "Sexy Photos Gate"? No one broke any laws, except a petty theft in the case of the repair shop employee who snagged a copy of the snaps off of Edisons Mac. Nevertheless, the police acted overzealously and sought to criminalize everyone who came into contact with the pictures, the immediate result being that posting the pictures became less about ruining careers, which it still did, and more about Freedom of Speech against an oppressive government. In the punishment category for this scandal, then, I nominate the Chief of Police, if no one else. The actresses involved have ruined their careers, punishment enough, surely, though I have to wonder if EEG can sue Gillian for breach of contract due to the affair -- surely there's a clause in there somewhere that says you can't ruin your reputation while they are trying to keep you as a bankable star? If there isn't, somehow I think the next batch of starlet contracts will include this clause. As for Edison Chen, his life is not just an episode of BIG BROTHER, but of SURVIVOR, and I think he's just been voted off the island.

There are a lot of ways "Sexy Photos Gate" could be made into a movie: a tragedy of hubris, pride coming before a fall. Or a cat-and-mouse game between the cops, the triads, and everyone else trying to stop the person who continued to post images online, under the nickname "Kira" (a nod to the movie DEATH NOTE), until he suddenly stopped. Did someone catch up to him? Did he blackmail the actors and actresses involved? Was he murdered? Who knows? Could be a good story. I'm thinking Francis Ng or Nic Tse as "Kira" and, I don't know, Stephen Fung as Edison Chen. Paging Wong Jing, Hong Kong needs you right now. Because nothing puts a scandal to rest better than immortalizing it as a trashy movie.

Rating: Not Recommended (Not Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on April 08, 2008.


Interesting analogies there!

If the Edison Chen scandal happened in, say, 1993, you can bet Wong Jing or some other producer would have had a movie out by the end of the year in which the names were barely changed to protect the innocent. A perfect example of this is LOVE AND SEX OF THE CHINESE HOLLYWOOD, which uses a relatively upbeat palette to paint a rather ugly picture of the lives of several real-life Hong Kong starlets.

CALL GIRLS is among a massive selection of as-yet-unwatched titles in my possession, so perhaps I'll move it up the priority list in honour of the end of that non-actor Edison Chen's career! ;)


Posted by: Bri at April 16, 2008 11:33 AM

Oh, and one other thing. I think the best person to play Edison Chen in a biopic of Sexy Photos Gate would be Edison Chen. Up to now, he was always cast in pictures that were far above his staggeringly limited talents, and surely he's got the time in his charity-work and self-study schedule, and no mainstream producer will be hiring him for a good long time. Best of all, the part would only require good looks, little emotional range, a faux-hipster 'tude fronting a lack of proper education, and, should it be rated Category III, a certain confidence in having one's junk on display for all the world to see, something he should be used to by now.

Posted by: Bri at April 16, 2008 11:48 AM

Brian -

Good call on LOVE AND SEX..., I was trying to brainstorm some other sex-scandal based films but all I can think of right now is THE PEEPING (2002).

Posted by: PTN at April 17, 2008 12:29 AM
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