The Hong Kong represented in Clifford Choi’s Hong Kong Hong Kong is not the glitzy cosmopolitan we’re so used to seeing onscreen today. Rather, it’s a place with a decaying skyline, the streets are dirty and the people are desperate. Cherie Chung’s Man Si Sun spends most of her day cooped up in a communal home, dreaming about landing legal status in Hong Kong while being sexually exploited by the men that surround her. But she’s not the only one desperate for a way out, Alex Man’s aimless Kong Yuen Sang spends his time gambling, fighting and cleaning windows. He’s practically an anti-hero straight out of a kitchen sink drama from the 60s. He’s an angry young man and it seems the only way out for him is to channel that anger and use it to his advantage in the boxing ring. To cap it all off, there’s veteran actor Kwan-Hoi San’s Uncle Kwai. He’s a carpenter looking for a companion, intimacy and most importantly, a son to bear the family name. Since it’s such a small world, the three characters cross paths and tragedy ensues.
Like many films going for social realism, Hong Kong Hong Kong is fraught with hallowing moments that lead to an ending where nobody leaves a winner. In some ways, the downbeat note that Choi ends his film on is the logical choice because in a world this bleak, it would be disingenuous to fade to black with optimism. With that being said though, the last 20 minutes of the film spirals out of control and the dramatic tension feels forced. The situations of the characters already make them compelling, to add even more misery just seems a little self-indulgent on the filmmakers’ behalf.
All three actors are in fine form and turn in mesmerizing performances. Though Cherie Chung has the more showy role, it’s Kwan-Hoi San that surprises with his heartbreaking portrayal of a sympathetic sad sack who’s explodes when he’s finds out Si Sun has been unfaithful.