Film Review: ‘Ho Yuk (Let’s Love Hong Kong)’5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
Director: Yau Ching
Cast: Wong Chung-Ching, Erica Lam, Colette Koo, Maria Cordero, Ricardo Mamood
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese, English, Mandarin
Runtime: 82 minutes
Written by: Tan Mei Qi
What do lesbians and giraffes have in common? Perhaps not a question anyone thought they would ever contemplate, but one that Ho Yuk (Let’s Love Hong Kong) induces as the film weaves itself in, out and between the lives of three women making a living in the restless streets of early 2000s Hong Kong.
Prowling these streets in aimless, slow and silent walks is Chan Kwok Chan (Wong Chung Ching) – broody daughter by day, interactive pornographic website “Let’s Love” model by night. When off-work, she meets up either with a property agent (Fung Manyee) to browse apartment units for rent, or with sex worker and her female lover (Wella Cheung) for romantic trysts in anonymous hotel rooms. It is during one of the apartment-hunting sessions that Chan meets Zero (Erica Lam), who, along with other squatters, spends her nights in an abandoned cinema and freelances between a myriad of odd jobs to get by.
It’s love at first sight – Zero begins centring her life around tracking Chan through the city with heartbreaking, puppy-like earnestness. However, she is not the only one who finds Chan’s charms irresistible; Nicole (Colette Koo), a corporate yuppie plagued by unrelenting insomnia, logs on to “Let’s Love” every night and masturbates to moving pictures of Chan dressed in a variety of costumes in order to fall asleep.
Avid fans of auteur Wong Kar-wai may find Ho Yuk familiar in its themes and aesthetics. Director Yau Ching paints a similar portrait of loneliness and alienation amidst cityscapes of tangerine neon and drab, grey concrete, through missed connections between people who brush shoulders every day, bump up into one another, yet fail to meet each other where they are really at. Audiences get a peep into the interior of an otherwise emotionally closed-off character through a first-person narrative voiceover.
However, what sets Ho Yuk apart from the likes of Wong’s works is the intense preoccupation with the way modern relationships are increasingly mediated through cyberspace. The film almost relishes in the unabashed use of camp, kitschy computer effects to illustrate the parasocial nature of such relationships, and their lack of groundedness to a reality that is just as lonely.
These effects, along with the film’s gratuitous play with sound and genius match-cuts that parallel the characters’ tentative reaches for connection with documentary footage of frolicking giraffes, contribute to an experimentalist style which may alienate certain audiences (as the end credits rolled, a fellow filmgoer sitting next to me remarked upon the three viewers who walked out midway and never returned: “I don’t think many people will understand this film.”).
However, being the first-of-its-kind in the Hong Kong film scene where independent filmmaking faces a lack of resources and support, Ho Yuk arguably seeks liberation rather than complete understanding. It chases the freedom of stillness in a city that is carried relentlessly forward by the turbulent tides of capitalism and geopolitics, and pursues unrestrained female desire, erotic or otherwise, without shame.
Even if its experimental tendencies make it hard for new viewers to connect with it, the finesse and natural ease with which first-time actresses (or should I say one-time – a quick search of their profiles reveals Ho Yuk as their sole venture into cinema) Wong Chung Ching and Erica Lam embody their roles helps lay bare their characters’ sheer humanity to strike an emotional chord.
Captured with a mostly static camera and embellished with simple movements and remarkable acting, the film takes on an intimate documentary style that asks only for the audience to bear witness to a carefully-crafted cinematic utopia structured solely around the whims, narratives and fantasies of sexually and socio-economically marginalised women.
Even as Ho Yuk may elude easy comprehension for first-time viewers who would benefit from tighter editing, the meditative pace allows the film to withstand the weight of its own message – that the possibility of any connection lies in stillness against the rush of the fast-paced city. As one sits with the film, it is difficult not to feel charmed by the creative liberties it takes in creating the materiality of the cyberspace, and the sheer wit of its dialogues. As for what lesbians really have got to do with giraffes, you can only watch to find out.
Ho Yuk was screened by the Asian Film Archive on 30 July 2022.
This review is published as part of *SCAPE’s Film Critics Lab: A Writing Mentorship Programme.
About the writer:
When not deep-diving into the trove of queer Asian dramas and cinema, Mei Qi is busy wishing that Ghibli food was real.