The Girls From China (1992)
Director: Barry Lee Ying-Lok
Writers: John Chong
Starring: Isabelle Chow, Pauline Chan, Jimmy Au Shui-Wai, and Charlie Cho

The Plot: Chow Ying (Isabelle Chow) is a naive young woman from the mainland who arrives in Hong Kong looking to lead her dream life. However, when she first makes it to the island she is picked up by an uncle who quickly shows himself to be a disgusting pervert. Ying quickly moves out and starts working at a cosmetic counter in a small store. While here, she begins a small relationship with one of her co-workers, a young man named Kent, but Ying isn’t ready to settle down yet. She moves out and takes a few classes in order to learn to sell insurance, and this new direction finally sets her on the path to riches and glory. Ying finds herself seducing potential customers, and after she solidifies a few big contracts, she is finally her own woman. After this, her love life becomes a roller coaster that inevitably leads to Kent showing up in her life again – but he reveals that he is actually a madman who wants to torture the beautiful Ying. Will Ying survive her encounters with this lunatic, or will her new lifestyle drag her into a cesspool of debauchery?

The Review
I do not know at what point the Category III label became a genre within a category, but it does seem as if it moved away from simply being a rating and became a united front that was defined by a series of sub-genres. There was the “true crime” genre that became popular for a while, and this led to titles such as The Untold Story and Dr. Lamb, amongst numerous others. However, amidst these disturbing semi-horror titles, there were also various sex-comedies that blossomed within the genre. Amongst these, there were gigolo movies, prostitute stories, and various other movies revolving around women with “great busts” and various perverted weirdos. Hong Kong comedy is always a hit or miss thing with me, but after someone has seen a few outlandish HK comedies – the humor does truly start to grow on the viewer. The Girls From China isn’t your run of the mill sex comedy though. As a movie, it certainly delivers a few of the outlandish touches that we expect, but it also strikes me as one of the few Category III sex movies that may very well have a slight hint of political subtext at work within its script. That may not make it a brilliant movie, but there’s at least something at work in this movie.

The Girls From China probably isn’t a film that purposefully tries to bring up the issues that it does, but as a piece of cinema it does pose several interesting questions. As a movie, this is a very obvious piece of exploitation. Normally, when I write reviews for movies that fall into this category, I don’t find myself pondering any deeper meanings. In fact, normally my qualifications for a rating rely more on the number of exposed breasts and the quality of the bloodshed. However, in this case, I find myself going back and forth on the movie and pondering just what it is that I think the filmmakers wanted to say. Truthfully, I think that director Barry Lee Ying-Lok wanted to develop a story that contained some nudity and vaguely dealt with issues of what a naive young person must face when they move to the big city. However, what unfolds in Lee’s movie is a story that delivers upon that promise, but also makes cautious warnings about materialistic societies and it exposes the callous nature of those who lust after fortune instead of spiritual or mental gain. That might sound pretentious, because it probably is, but all of the pieces are in play. Barry Lee also establishes his film in a way that could very well be seen as a “girl power” feature, where a male dominated world is quickly turned on its head due to the strong hand of a empowered female. Which movie you will ultimately find in The Girls From China entirely depends upon the viewer, but I would say that either opinion is valid. I would also say that its perfectly acceptable to view it as a movie that features two very sexy girls doing some fairly naughty things. No matter which way you look at it, these are all acceptable answers.

Unfortunately, as much as I find myself delving into the potential-subtext of the movie, I can’t say that I loved Girls From China. It is a movie that definitely has its moments, and it never strays from its sexploitation roots, but the main problems I have with the movie is its ridiculously episodic nature. I am rarely a fan of telling a story through numerous subplots, but if a filmmaker can manage to tie them all together in a way that makes the jumbled narrative work, then all can be forgiven. Unfortunately, this movie is not a fine example of that particular scenario. Unfortunately, The Girls From China is all over the place and rarely keeps up with its own continuity. Between each very “big” moment in the film, the movie loses various characters who are introduced and various actions take place that go unexplained. Somewhere in the middle of the movie, Isabelle Chow gets a brand new haircut in the midst of changing her occupation, but there is no rhyme or reason explained of this. While the character is obviously making a very distinct change in her life in terms of her occupation, the film goes from one scene with her having long hair and then jumps right into a new scene where she is rocking a much shorter hairstyle. Then there are the characters who jump in and out of the movie. The entire reason that Isabelle’s character Ying ever even left her hometown was to come stay with her uncle, but after he attempts molesting her we never even hear about his character again. He is in the movie for around five minutes, if that. Pauline Chan is shown in a glorified cameo, and her character suffers a similar fate. She serves a small purpose in the film, and she is quickly tossed out of the picture.

Another character who is introduced and then forgot would obviously be Kent. While Kent is a much more interesting character, the film doesn’t seem to handle him in a manner that actually seems to build the correct amount of suspense. Kent is introduced relatively early within the movie, and his character seems to be a very respectful young man. Dare I say it, he is actually quite likable. In a film that is filled to the brim with evil male characters, Kent stands out as the only decent one in the first half of the movie. However, once Kent finally beds the young Ying, he rolls over and has some awkward pillow talk with the young woman. In a state of half-sleep, Kent rolls over and tells Ying that any woman who dares try to leave him – will most assuredly be killed. Not exactly the sort of thing anyone wants to hear when they are about to wander off to sleep. The strange thing is that following this threat, Ying wakes up and immediately writes out a lovely Dear John letter to Kent. Even though she is leaving him, which is the right move since he is a sociopath, it appears as if Ying doesn’t take Kent’s threat very serious. After this, Kent disappears from the movie for nearly thirty or forty minutes. We don’t see him again until the very last quarter of the movie, where he pops back up as a deranged psychotic. Apparently the Dear John letter didn’t help his fragile mental state. So, the movie dangles the entire crux of the film, and everything that the character of Ying actually represents, on a subplot that was probably forgotten by the audience over a half hour ago within the movie. This is generally one of my biggest pet peeves within the movie.

The Conclusion
The Girls From China is far from being perfect. It’s far from even being “great.” However, for the CAT III sex genre… it is relatively interesting. I must give it that. It is the sort of film that fans of this genre and this style of movie will probably want to check out. It delivers on genre expectations, but at the same time it also goes into some new and intriguing areas. Certainly worth taking a look at, I give it a three out of five.