May We Chat picks up over 30 years after the film Lonely Fifteen examined the life of young prostitutes, this time looking at how social media has become a major factor nowadays for procuring clients. The story follows three Hong Kong girls with double lives and the fallout that occurs when one of them goes missing (Kabby Hui) after a drug deal gone bad.

 

 

 

2

One of the things that made Hong Kong cinema of the 1980s such a powerhouse was that there were so many talented people cranking out films in a market dominated by genre sensibilities. Directors like Tsui Hark, John Woo, and Ann Hui, to name but a few, employed some charismatic actors, dazzling technique and an anything goes mentality to create a daring genre cinema. However, great films are always exceptions rather than the norm. Hence, the genre masters are usually giants standing on the shoulders of midgets. Which is another way of saying that genre cinema is sometimes spawned by little more than a sausage factory mentality with even less style than substance.

May We Chat is a new Hong Kong exploitation morality play about three teenage girls who study maths by day and turn tricks at night, and are constantly connected via social media – in this case a platform whose name is embedded in the film’s title. While they are all living risky lives, the key activator of the plot starts when Yan, (Kabby Hui), the most well-to-do of the featured trio, rips off a drug dealer and goes missing after spectacularly dangling from the balcony of her luxury apartment building.

As Yan is the daughter of a famous celebrity, her disappearance brings plenty of attention and her mother, Irene (played by veteran Hong Kong actress, Irene Wan), is willing to offer $100,000 to locate her missing daughter.

There is some ambiguity about the motivation of Yan’s prostitution-dabbling, social media friends, poor girl, Wai Wai (Heidi Lee) and mute Wai Ying (Rainky Wai). However, while the reward money is a serious lure, the girls also know the types of risks Yan has been exposed to as they have been taking exactly the same risks – and more.

Working through a series of online messaging and phone call networks, Wai Wai and Wai Ying begin their investigation of schoolgirls, prostitutes, nannies, boyfriends and pimps (though not in that order). Of course, when the reward money becomes general knowledge and a suspicion grows that Yan may have stashed the stolen drugs somewhere, gangsters and other reprobates also develop an interest in the missing girl’s whereabouts.

As the film progresses, Wai Wai and Wai Ying get themselves into more and more trouble. While the tone of the sex never gets above grimy, the story becomes increasingly harsh as extreme violence is introduced into the mix with a brutal killing and a couple of nasty rapes that have a whiff of sadism about them. Like many efforts from the grindhouse end of genre, this film seems to take pleasure in the very things it claims to be warning its audience against.

May We Chat wastes no time in giving the (male) punters what they want in low budget exploitation fare. The film rapidly introduces its characters and sporting a mauve wig, Wai Ying quickly hooks up with a much older ‘john’ and is out of her clothes and having sex in the shower before the film has been running eight minutes or the opening credits have unfurled. (However, inserts of Rainky Wai would indicate that the buxom naked girl is a body double – not that the film’s target audience would care too much.)

The acting is so-so, though in the case of Rainky Wai’s mute schoolgirl it’s hard to get a grip on her level of performance beyond some exaggerated sign language and a deadpan expression. A treacly soundtrack smears a melodramatic veneer over the performances and acts as an extra obstacle to taking the film’s intentions seriously.
On the socially committed side of the equation, the film points to a never-ending chain of teenage rebellion and increasing childhood degradation, and tries to score a point by adding clips from Irene Chan’s movie debut Lonely Fifteen (1982) into the story as flashbacks.

Like Steven Soderbergh’s attempt to make The Limey (1999) into a kind of sequel to Poor Cow (1967) by recycling footage from the much earlier Ken Loach film, direct Philip Yung and writer Lou Shiu-wa use clips from Lonely Fifteen to similar and, in fact, superior effect. Though Chan’s co-star Becky Lam won the Best Actress in 1982, the grainy clips that serve as flashbacks show the younger Chan’s character as one of a group rabblerousers, who also survived an adolescence of shoplifting and prostitution. There’s an implication in this clever homage that ‘the kids are alright’ and the May We Chat protagonists will simply grow out of their risk-taking behaviour. But that’s a little simple-minded and the film’s morality has little compassion for those who may fall (sometimes fatally) along the wayside while the lucky ones grow up and grow tired of the danger in the woods.

Details

MA15+
1 hour 39 min
In Cinemas 19 June 2014,

Genres