Life is Cheap... But Toilet Paper is Expensive

Cheng Wan Kin, John Chan, Kwan-Min Cheng

Directed by Wayne Wang, Spencer Nakasako
Rolling Stone: star rating
5 0
Community: star rating
5 0 0
August 24, 1990

It's different. An Asian-American man, played by this film's screenwriter, Spencer Nakasako, flies from San Francisco to Hong Kong to deliver a briefcase to the Big Boss (Lo Wai). Eager to visit the port city before China reclaims it from Britain in 1997, the man encounters a hooker, a cabdriver, a geriatric "sex dancing" teacher and a butcher who interrupts his duck killing to deliver the sage aphorism that is the title.

Director Wayne Wang (Chan Is Missing) lets the camera run wild through the streets, catching glimpses of people pulled apart by the explosive mix of capitalism and communism. Wang satirizes both isms unmercifully. The Big Boss is a cutthroat who nonetheless must save face when he learns that his mistress, sharply acted by Wang's wife, Cora Miao, is having a lesbian affair with his daughter. Wang uses all the resources of filmmaking to shock us into recognition of displacement in the modern world. Even when it drives you crazy, this pointedly witty film cuts to the quick.

Movie Review Main Next


Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...


Sort by:
    Read More

    Movie Reviews

    More Reviews »
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.


    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories

    “American Girl”

    Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | 1976

    It turns out that a single with "American" in its title--recorded on the Fourth of July during the nation's Bicentennial, no less--can actually sell better in Britain. Coupled with the Heartbreakers' flair for Byrds jangle and Animals hooks, though, is Tom Petty's native-Florida drawl that keeps this classic grounded at home. Petty dispelled rumors that the song was about a suicidal student, explaining that the inspiration came from when he was 25 and used to salute the highway traffic outside his apartment window. "It sounded like the ocean to me," he recalled. "That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by."

    More Song Stories entries »