Life is Cheap... But Toilet Paper is Expensive

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.

From The Archives Issue 587: September 20, 1990