Movie Review: The Lady Improper (非分熟女)

It may be 2019 elsewhere but here in Hong Kong it might as well be 1989 thanks to director Jessey Tsang Tsui Shan (曾翠珊). Her latest film, the provocatively titled, THE LADY IMPROPER, is so retrograde in its treatment of the film’s main character that one could be forgiven for thinking that the story was written by a male chauvinist extraordinaire.

Yuen Siu-man (Charlene Choi/蔡卓妍, who was one half of the Cantopop duo, Twins) is a gynaecological nurse at a Hong Kong hospital. Her four-year marriage has fallen apart because, we quickly learn, she has a fear of sexual intimacy. It’s not like she’s willing to throw in the towel though. Her latest purchase from Taobao, a sex toy that lights up, has arrived at her place of work (I know I always arrange to have my sex toys sent to my place of work!), so she heads home to beg her husband to give her a second, or perhaps 43rd, chance to make the marriage work. He literally doesn’t take the bait. Things for Siu-man then go from bad to worse when her father (veteran martial arts actor Tony Lau Wing/劉永) takes ill and ends up in the hospital. That’s when Siu-man decides its time to reboot her life. She leaves her job at the hospital and takes over the day-to-day running of her father’s cha chaan teng (Hong Kong-style diner) with the help of Jiahao (Chris Wu Kang Jen/吳慷仁), a handsome, Paris-trained, new cook from Taiwan. Around the same time, she also bumps into an old friend who runs a pole dancing studio and who convinces her to come along for a class or two. Will Siu-man finally be able to find her mojo or will she remain as exciting in bed as a piece of day-old refrigerated tofu?

Did we really just go there? Does the filmmaker really want us to believe that all it takes for a woman to overcome her sexual inhibitions is to dip her hands into a piece of marinated pork loin in a steamy kitchen with a hunky chef à la GHOST and twirl around on a pole wearing a skimpy outfit? Oh my. I love how so many people here say that Hong Kong is an old-fashioned, Confucian society, and perhaps compared to other major cities around the world we are a little behind the curve when it comes to sexual liberation, but have these same people seen all the public displays of affection that are taking place on our subway trains and in our bus queues these days? It is not 1989 anymore. Siu-man’s generation is far more switched on sexually than their parents ever were. So why in 2019 are we given a film that pretty much says that all a woman needs to feel whole is a good (ahem!)?

For Choi, taking on this role was risk for her but her puritanical fan base seems to be handling the shock okay, which also shows how far this society has come in recent years. The Vancouver-born singer-actress has made quite the career off of her squeaky clean image. A photo scandal involving her singing partner, Gillian Chung/鍾欣潼, back in 2008 threatened to derail both their careers but the women were able to bounce back after some time out of the spotlight.

In any case, don’t let the film’s title fool you because there is nothing improper about this lady. She’s just trying to find what works best for her, and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of experimentation along the way. But here’s some advice for those of you who are considering trying something new: If you’re going to invite your nerdy love interest to your “dance recital”, you should tell him ahead of time that it involves poles!

THE LADY IMPROPER is only for people who get the vapours at the mere thought of having sex on a greasy kitchen counter.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, April 5th at 8:30 am HK time!

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