Hong Kong Call Girls

Port of Call Still - h 2015In the wake of the rising number of murders within Hong Kong’s sex trade industry and the tabloid-ready 2014 double homicide by a British banker, writer-director Philip Yung’s Port of Call couldn’t be more au courant if it tried. At a time when the safety and rights of sex workers — or lack thereof — are increasingly being called into question, the film, based on another gruesome, headline-grabbing story from five years ago, joins other films by the industry’s independent fringe on the subject: Herman Yau’s Whispers and Moans and Kenneth Bi’s Girl$. Yung, however, opts out of easy sensationalism (for the most part) and takes a more muted, deliberate approach to the story of a 16-year-old Hunan girl living in Hong Kong who stumbles into prostitution and the journeyman cop who investigates her murder.

Making its world premiere closing out HKIFF, this version of Port of Call — notably produced with no Mainland financing at all — is a director’s cut, and it shows. Yung’s first feature, Glamorous Youth, was an astute portrait of marginalized teens and twentysomethings that suffered only for its rambling, unfocused nature. His sophomore effort, May We Chat, was incendiary and foul-mouthed, but at roughly 100 minutes it seemed more compact and on point. Here, he takes something of a step back with his director’s cut, but what Yung and distributor Mei Ah will settle on for wide release is anybody’s guess. As it stands, Port of Call is a meandering meditative mystery that prefers contemplation to action; with some editing it could be a tight, serviceable crime thriller. The sweet spot would be somewhere in between, and if it can be found, the combination of star Aaron Kwok and the familiar subject matter should give the film a solid life at home in Hong Kong. It could also do moderate business in Asia-Pacific, at specialty festivals and in niche markets internationally, again on the strength of Kwok’s status.

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