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Girl$     Girl$

(left) The girls of Girl$, and (right) Michelle Wai as Icy.
Chinese: 囡囡  
Year: 2010  
Director: Kenneth Bi  
Producer: Ng Kin-Hung
Cast: Michelle Wai, Bonnie Xian, Una Lin, Venus Wong Man-Yik, Deep Ng Ho-Hong, Derek Tsang Kwok-Cheung, Karson Lok, Eric Tse Hoi-Wing, Justin Cheung Kin-Seng
The Skinny: A prostitution drama for the text messaging generation. Not much new or incisive really happens in Girl$, but director Kenneth Bi delivers a stylish, energetic and passably entertaining flick. It helps to ignore things like developed characters, gender politics and dangling storylines.
by Kozo:

Director Kenneth Bi makes one for hire with Girl$, a youth prostitution drama that qualifies as his slickest and most watchable, if not really the best film in his filmography. Basically a 21st century update on the PR Girls formula, Girl$ follows four different young women and their experiences in the world of compensated dating, where girls are paid to date and not necessarily perform sex acts. Of course, sex is an inevitable byproduct of the biz, and the girls are subject to the same dangers: diseases, perverted clients, and even a depraved killer who’s out there killing and dismembering working girls. Nonetheless, the girls forge on because they need the cash.

Well, Ronnie (Bonnie Xian) doesn’t. The rich Ronnie tentatively joins the trade because she's bored and likes sleeping with handsome young men. She doesn't feel right about taking the cash though, and will actually pay her clients instead. Taiwan import Lin (Una Lin) does it for the money, but she enjoys it too, rating the guys in her little black book while also possibly falling for one of her regular johns (Eric Tse of EO2). Compensated dating agent Icy (Michelle Wai) is not supposed to go on paid dates anymore, but she's driven towards increasing her earnings to support her online game-playing boyfriend (Derek Tsang). Finally, there's Gucci (Venus Wong), a 16 year-old high-schooler who wants to sell her virginity to the highest bidder to pay for – what else – a limited edition handbag.

Despite their differing reasons for becoming prostitutes (and that's what they are, some of the girls are quick to remind each other), the four become good enough friends to start hanging out regularly. Conflicts arise due to obvious differences, but the girls weather the storm by banding together to commiserate, shop, and screw with some of the nastier johns. Their quick friendship beggars some belief, as the girls hardly seem compatible or alike besides their common trade. Also, plot holes abound. If Ronnie is rich and the girls are friends, why won't she just buy Gucci her limited edition handbag to stop her from engaging in underage prostitution? No reason is given, but that's par for Girl$, which is more often glib and cursory than it is incisive. The film offers a sampling of this particular life, but that's just what it is: a sampling.

The film's lack of depth is mediated somewhat by a decent use of technique. Kenneth Bi shoots Girl$ with copious style and plenty of flash. The film moves with a strong, energetic rhythm, and Bi's editing is sharp. The style helps hide some of the film's other deficits, like some shallow, undeveloped characters. Also, only one actress (Una Lin) is contracted for nudity, but the fast pace and generous editing may prevent some audiences from realizing such. Some details are suspiciously dropped; nothing is ever made of Gucci's horny brother (Deep Ng), the threatening serial killer is never fully dealt with, and the ripped-from-the-headlines HIV storyline (involving a john posting a list of possibly infected girls online) is resolved in a predictable, pseudo-sensitive manner. Stripped of its style, Girl$ offers little new to this genre besides the same lip service about how sex workers are people too.

Still, provided one doesn't look too closely at the sexual or gender politics involved, there's enough in Girl$ to entertain. Kenneth Bi successfully makes this particular subculture, where young men and women trade for sex online and via text messaging, into a believable and immediate one. The modern technological age, where privacy and information are bartered so casually, seems familiar and even a little frightening in Bi's hands. He can't channel the same effectiveness into his characters or their emotions, but there are bright spots there too. Michelle Wai is among Hong Kong's most promising young actresses, and the emotions she creates are striking ones. The other actresses aren't quite as strong, but they suit their character types well. With Girl$, Bi shows that he's talented enough to tell stories different than his previous, somewhat self-absorbed works did. He may simply need better scripts and better producers to move up another level. (Kozo, reviewed at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, 2010)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mei Ah Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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image credit: Hong Kong International Film Festival Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen