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Original Title:
Sing kung chok tse sup yut tam

Hong Kong 2007


Herman Yau

Athena Chu
Candy Yu
Mandy Chiang
Monie Tung
Patrick Tang
Don Li
Yan Ng
Ken Lo
Karen Tong
Kenny Wong
Emotion Cheung
Misia Chan

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Whispers and Moans

Story: Jenny (Candy Yu) and Coco (Athena Chu) manage a hostess service and have to face a lot of problems. Right now, business is running low, the competition from mainland is cheaper, more hygienic and more motivated. And this even though the girls working for Jenny and Coco have a better life than when they were still working on the streets. However, at its core the job is still the same.
Coco also finds out, that her present husband is cheating her with transvestite Jo (Don Li). Even worse he catched syphilis. Anxiously, Coco has to wait for the results of her blood test, because if she is actually infected, this could mean that her daugher is in danger, too.
At the same time one of the prostitutes, Nana (Mandy Chiang), doesn't know how she is supposed to continue hiding from her boyfriend what she is doing for a living. Furthermore, her sister Aida (Monie Tung) is a drug-addicted and therefore gets kicked out by Jenny, so that she has to work on the streets again. Moreover, there is also gigolo Tony (Patrick Tang), who is relieving stress by paying other prostitutes to get shouted at by him. He eventually saves himself by running into the arms of Jo, who is desperately trying to get together the money he needs to pay for a gender reassignment.
In the midst of this world, social worker Elsie (Yan Ng) claims more rights and recognition for the work of prostitutes. But even when talking to the prostitutes she just falls on deaf ears.

Review: Director Herman Yau creates an interesting and honest, even though unspectacular social study about prostitution. Unfortunately, he doesn't always seem to know what he actually wants to achieve with his film in the end. Most of the time he just lets the lives of the protagonists speak for themselves. This works surprisingly well, yet there is always a certain emotional distance between the viewer and the characters, so that we can never really sympathize with them. The at times dreary and uninventive directing also adds to the fact that this movie does look like a dokumentation, especially since we know the fate of many of the portrayed girls from most TV-dokus. However, you can't deny Yau's well-intentioned approach, and the fact that he draws a credible picture of the lives of harlots.

Nonetheless, the problems depicted here aren't really anything new to us. Coco fears that she might have been infected with a venereal disease, which would also bring her daughter into mortal danger. Athena Chu in her role can prove that she is already an old bird in the film business, and provides a convincing performance as the girls' mentor. This also applies for Candy Yu, who does a specially good job as the hostess club manager with a lot of years experience and a certain kind of hard-bitten character.
Nevertheless, especially when it comes to Mandy Chiang and Monie Tung, who play two sisters, it really becomes apparent that the movie not only doesn't take its time to introduce well-drawn characters, but also doesn't seem to be interested in doing so. Director Yau takes advantage of this by making the rough shape of the characters look sincere and even natural. There is no beautification here, and that's a good thing as this would have looked very much out of place in the world portrayed.

The most interesting story revolves around Tony, who works as a male "prostitute", and by becoming degraded to a sex object, he suffers a mental crack. Therefore, he pays other prostitutes in order to degrade them himself and to revaluate his self-esteem in front of women.
Don Li, playing the transvestite, easily would have run the risk to become a cliché, but within the framework of this movie even a character like his seems real and credible.
It's just a shame that the different characters can't really go near to you, as the film feels a bit too fragmented. The several characters cross their mutual paths on many occassions, and the movie also avoids to focus too much on any of them. But this also means, that we can never weave a real emotional bond to the individuals. Many of the supposedly moving scenes aren't nearly as touching as they could have been.

The film's lacking focus might be annoying, but also could have made for one of the movie's strengths. Sadly, there are numerous tedious speeches by social worker Elsie about life and the rights of prostitutes, which bestows a forced, even though not comprehensible meaning/message upon this drama. Elsie has to find out that the prostitutes fail to understand what she wants to achieve, as they think (and rightly so) that she has no idea what it is like to be a prostitute. Many of them see it only as a job, some of them don't even deny that they lose their pride to a certain degree, then again some also have fun with what they are doing. There are too many of those inserted annoying speeches about what it means to work in this business, so that the movie's style becomes too investigative and this even in an unconvincing manner. Sometimes it seems as if the director wanted to convey a certain message, but what a message this might be remains in the dark. It would have been best just to illuminate the lives of the protagonists with all of its aspects in a sincere way, without having to insert a subtle evaluation. It should have been the viewer's choice what to make of the pieces the film delivers. On the surface "Whispers and Moans" actually seems to be very neutral, but when you look at the core, things look a little different, unfortunately.

"Whispers and Moans" would had been better off if it would just have sticked to letting the situations talk, instead of also allowing the different characters to give us their share of thoughts. Moreover, somehow the film lacks the necessary profoundess for us to be moved. We don't care much about the fate of the individuals, and the triste directing seperates us from the characters even more than it is already the case anyway.
Fans of nude scenes also won't get their share, as there is much talk about sex and prostitution, yet we never get to see anything on screen.
Herman Yau's movie is honest and drawn in a rough manner, which also gives his work some sort of authenticity. "Whispers and Moans" may be interesting and made with a lot of good intention, but actually fails to be something special, let alone being disturbing. Yau's work is nothing more than a sometimes droughty glance on humanness and the problems women have to face who earn their money with sex.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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