8 January 2017 | lasttimeisaw
a true cineaste treat from Hong Kong
PORT OF CALL is based on the true event in Hong Kong about a grisly body-dismembered homicide of a 16-year-old girl Jiamei (Li, a stunner in her first film role with a greatly affecting performance juggling evenly with emotional range and starlet innocence), directed by indigenous new blood Philip Yung, his third feature. The film was a major contender in 2015 Golden Horse Film Festival (9 nominations with only 1 win), and consecutively took home 7 awards out of 13 nominations in 2016 Hong Kong Film Awards (a slam dunk of 5 acting categories apart from Yung's screenplay and the legendary cinematographer Doyle).
The story takes two main paralleled narratives interweaving within each other, one is centered on Jiamei before her startling demise, a mainland Chinese girl who arrives in Hong Kong to live with her mother May (Jin) and stepfather (Tam Ping-man), she is identified as those immigrants who fantasize a new life and fortune in this economic hub, Jiamei aims to be model like most comely young girls, but she finds that dream has become ever volatile because the challenge of merging herself into Hong Kong's metropolitan mores is so testing, it is not just about speaking fluent Cantonese, it is everything that surrounds her strapped life, thus, out of expediency, she chooses to become a call girl, to earn fast money and maybe she still has a chance to find someone who will honestly reciprocate her feelings, which doesn't happen in her case, hurt, jaded and disillusioned, she meets another client Tsz-Chung (Ning, a theatrical hand in his film debut), a corpulent delivery driver whose own misanthropic personality has its deeply discomforting trajectory, then Jiamei's story reaches its premature coda out of her own will. Yung truly takes no prisoners in expounding the macabre minutiae of the procedures of the dismemberment through Ning's superbly engrossing narration, imparted with astounding gravitas and foregrounded by the subliminally pervading susurrus soundtrack by indie musician Ding Ke. Jiamei and Tsz-Chung completely shatter the stereotype of victim and predator, two equally lonely souls have no way out in an increasingly materialistic world.
The cynosure of the other narrative bifurcation is Detective Chong (Kwok), who is investigating the murder case with his sidekick Smokey (Patrick Tam), consoles a grief-ridden May (Elaine Jin is an endearing marvel to behold) and wonders the motivation behind the crime, Yung doesn't choose to propel the story as a gripping whodunit, Tsz-Chung turns himself in to the police in the early stage of the interlacing storyline.
Chong's backstory is obviously less lurid in comparison, a divorcé but still keeps amicable relations with his ex (Leung) and daughter, habitually asks others to take photos of him in the crime scene for his own collection, and collapses in his sinking-too-deep involvement of Jiamei's fate. A salt- and-pepper Kwok finally decides to enact a character reflecting his real age on the screen, he was almost 50 when making the film and has been mostly admired for his good-looks and ever-so- young physiognomy, there is an in-joke between Chong and his superior Madam Law (Shiu), when the latter teases him that his skin starts to become flabby, so he orders a facial-tightening product consequentially.
That is the only light touch in this granted perturbing social critique of Hong Kong's underbelly among those in the lower rung, which also rams home its message of the discrepancy between those born in HK and those who are relocated, the former priggishly looks down on the latter whereas the latter desperately emulates the former in order to cash in any possible financial reward in that fertile land. Indeed, the reality is bleak and the gap seemingly irreconcilable, PORT OF CALL might cash in a tad on the tabloid nature of its source story, but at least it rounds off as a contemplating and piquant contemporary urban horror, without any pretentious frills to make itself easier to digest for a wide audience, a true cineaste treat from a place where its own identity is currently experiencing a substantial reconstruction and its cinematic soil is in dire demand of inspiration and integrity.