Tuesday, July 01, 2014

NYAFF ’14: May We Chat

Ironically, “Generation Like” is pretty darn unlikable, at least in most of their petulant on-screen portrayals. At least, Hong Kong’s latest lost generation is willing to work. They all seem to be turning tricks or apprenticing as petty gangsters, truly making them the children of the previous lost generation. Three young women indulge in the same shallow social media and defiantly bad judgment rife amongst their peers, but they just might represent the best hope of their cohort in Philip Yung’s May We Chat (trailer here), which screens during the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival.

For about five minutes, Chat looks like it might be a HK Clueless, as the three friends gossip and exchange pictures of the latest fashions over the WeChat app. Then the deaf-mute Yee-gee meets up with her latest “date” at a no-tell motel. Wai-wai’s average home life might even be more shocking for viewers, with her little sister matter-of-factly doing chores while their addled mother tokes her way to an ice-fueled oblivion behind a thin muslin curtain. Yan should have the easiest lot of the trio. She is a slumming rich girl with a thing for violent gangsters. Unfortunately, she is the one who mysteriously disappears following an unsuccessful suicide attempt.

As if Chat’s liberal helpings of scandal and social pathology were not enough, it also functions as a pseudo-sequel to David Lai’s iconic delinquent movie, Lonely Fifteen. Yan’s mother Irene was once as street as Wai-wai or Yee-gee, but she made good. However, she still kept a line of communication open with “Peter from Cheong Lok Street,” her old street tough chum, who now gets by pimping out a small but comparatively classy stable of women. When her one hundred grand reward offer fails to generate information, she calls in a favor with Uncle Peter.

Chat might not be the most uplifting film to ever come out of Hong Kong, but it is a spectacular calling card for its three co-leads. Rainky Wai and Kabby Hui give extraordinarily bold performances, often putting themselves in downright shocking positions, as Yee-gee and Yan, respectively. However, it is Heidi Lee who truly rips out her heart for all to see during Wai-wai’s big closing confrontation. This is definitely a young person’s film, but the crafty old vet Peter Mak still lays it down with authority as Uncle Peter.

Young clearly handles young actors with admirable sensitivity, but he is a bit weak when it comes to narrative transitions. Nonetheless, he never goes for cheap shock or empty exploitation. You have to look hard for the optimism in Chat, but it is worth noting the worst abuses are committed by the girls’ seniors. At least there is reason to think there will be a tomorrow for most of them, just as there apparently was for some of the Lonely Fifteen characters. Recommended for those who like their teen dramas dark and uncompromising, May We Chat screens tomorrow (7/2) at the Walter Reade Theater, as part of this year’s NYAFF.