Pretty Woman — a Hong Kong slice of sleaze that cashes in on the Julia Roberts hit with its title and a few minor plot points — has been my ‘holy grail’ Category III for some years. On my third visit to Hong Kong a couple months back, I finally managed to find it. It was my last night in Hong Kong. I came across a grimy little VCD store and there it was, sitting high up above the counter. Upon recognising the cover art, my hands got a little shaky in excitement — quite the overreaction for what would most certainly be a big piece of crap.
original title: 卿本佳人 (Qing ben jia ren)
Hong Kong, 1991, Yeung Chi Gin
There’s rampant nudity. There’s violent shoot-outs, explosions, kidnapping, and martial arts. There’s cackling villains. There’s a sweaty gym sex scene where characters work out while boning. There’s head-scratching tonal shifts. One moment someone is getting brutally raped and killed, the next we have hideously inappropriate sexual harassment played for laughs.
The film’s actual plot bares little resemblance to the more famous American cinema outing of the same name. We initially follow Veronica (Veronica Yip) who, while working late at the office, is raped by a repulsive co-worker. The co-worker is a scumbag by the name of Charlie Chau and played by… uh Charlie Cho. During the act, Charlie accidentally kills Veronica. In a panic, he disposes of the body. And that’s the opening five minutes of the movie done.
By some crazy stroke of luck, Charlie comes across a hostess, Mimin (also played by Veronica Yip), who looks exactly like Veronica. Charlie convinces the sassy young hostess to come into his office and hand in a resignation to the boss, posing as Veronica. But Mimin takes a liking to one of her colleagues and decides to stick around. This leads sexy office pranks and, somewhat less expectantly, gunfights and crazy action scenes with lots of flips.
As you’d expect from a Hong Konger of this vintage, Pretty Woman is jarring as fuck, bounding flippantly from vicious violence to cutesy comedy often within the same scene. There were scenes that had me cringing hard and shaking my head like mad, and other moments where I was glued to the screen, entranced by the squibs and surprisingly competent action choreography. This is a film made up of moments — weird, stupid, disconnected moments that can be anything from comedy bits to mean-spirited abuse.
There’s one scene in particular that I think sums up Pretty Woman rather beautifully. When the film should have probably been a few seconds from ending, we’re thrown a ten minute sequence (no exaggeration) with Veronica Yip sadly masturbating in a bathtub. She drifts off into a dream world where she makes love to her boypal underwater. Her sexy masturbatory dream that seems to go forever is eventually interrupted when a wind up toy (a man on a horse) falls into the water. This bathtub mishap acts as some kind of befuddling emotional trigger.
This bizarre bathtub sequence is the purest form of CAT III I’ve ever seen. It’s stupid, pointless, and sleazy. And, in all its obnoxious glory and in tune with Pretty Woman as a whole, it’s also wildly entertaining. This is not CAT III’s finest, but it could well be the most CAT III CAT III movie ever made.
Well, apparently Pretty Woman was available on DVD at one point in time. I have never seen the DVD anywhere. Instead, I found it on a VCD in a tiny, crazy little shop in Kowloon. Happy hunting!