Film review: The White Girl – Christopher Doyle’s abject fable of Hong Kong wastes the talents of Angela Yuen and Joe Odagiri
What were they thinking? Self-proclaimed love letter to Hong Kong lacks humour and sensitivity, let alone a meaningful plot or dialogue, and its attempts at political allegory are embarrassing
The White Girl is at once a self-proclaimed love letter to Hong Kong and an inadvertent middle finger to the art of sensible screenwriting. It strives to be an ode to the city’s essence at a time of political upheaval – only to play like a vanity project bereft of good humour, a basic sensitivity to history, or any satirical edge in its embarrassing attempts at political allegory.
The noted cinematographer Christopher Doyle was inspired by the 2014 Occupy protests to direct the crowd-funded docu-drama Hong Kong Trilogy in 2015. He has since reunited with that project’s producer, Jenny Suen, to co-write and co-direct this unapologetically meandering fable set in “the last fishing village in Hong Kong”, named “Pearl Village” after the city’s antiquated nickname.
Popular model-actress Angela Yuen Lai-lam ( Our Seventeen ) plays the titular girl, a Pearl Village resident who has been kept out of the sun by her fisherman father (Leung Kin-ping, the taxi driver in Ten Years ) due to her allergy to sunlight. It may be 20 years after Hong Kong’s handover, but Doyle and Suen still find the mettle to revisit a very old cliché and have the girl long for a missing mother.
Inexplicably, the film also sees fit to cast the Japanese star Joe Odagiri as a squatter in a heritage mansion in the village. I couldn’t begin to imagine what his tentative romance with the local girl, who seeks refuge in his presence, signifies in what is clearly meant to be an allegory of Hong Kong – from its early days as a fishing village to its recent status as a target of property developers from China.
While the pleasing looks of Yuen and Odagiri – both solid actors and fashion symbols – make The White Girl’s interminable passages slightly more tolerable, they are cold comfort next to the film’s utter disregard for meaningful plots and dialogue. Even in an offbeat parody, we’re way past the point where old Chinese men, identified by their matching red caps, were considered funny.
The White Girl opens on December 14
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