Fow Pyng Hu's Paradise Girls Great Tension in Optimism By Evgeny Gusyatrnskiy

in 23th Rotterdam International Film Festival

by Evgeny Gusyatrnskiy

Paradise Girls , by Fow Pyng Hu, is interesting as a cross-cultural work. It has a European visual style but also a slow and calm oriental rhythm. It combines three stories, comparing three females who don’t know each other, and also putting together two different kinds of mentalities: Western and Eastern. Director Hu lives in Holland but he is of Chinese origin. In a light, pure and delicate form of small and minimalist stories, Hu makes his social observations.

The first and shortest story is about a Japanese girl, who comes to Amsterdam and visits her Dutch boyfriend. Yet the meeting of two lovers suddenly fails. The boyfriend seems not to be ready for serious relationships. Almost immediately he asks his Asian girlfriend when she is coming back to her motherland. They become bothered with one another and are going to break up. But Hu makes it open-ended. He registers the permanent loneliness and also the state of alienation between man and women and different countries which are divided by thousand of kilometers.

Paradise Girls has a slowly accumulating power, from the easy and non-fatal first story to the emotionally deep and dramatic last one. In the middle, Hu includes a story about a Chinese community living in Amsterdam. Hu focuses on a girl who works with her father in a snack bar. One day her father goes to barbershop and has his ear cut by a careless hairdresser. Nevertheless he does not complain. But his daughter is very nervous about this accident and interprets it as a sign of a discrimination of another’s nationality. She goes to the hairdresser, demands compensation, gets a rejection, and finally makes a mess in a barbershop. Unsatisfied, she returns to her routine everyday work. Her adolescent frustrations and wishes for a better (paradise-like) life are depicted with compassionate care and temperate distance.

The collisions that surround immigrants in a non-native country are viewed not only in a common social or political way but more prominently in an exclusively existential way. The temperature of this humane and delicate film gets to it final boiling point in the third and best story which is more like a brilliantly directed and very well-acted short movie. It is set in Hong Kong and starts like a humorous sketch on advertising. The main heroine attends a casting call for commercials. She has to promote some products or pieces of a virtual ‘paradise world’. But her life is far from heaven.

Suddenly she gets to know that her little son has an almost incurable heart disease. He needs an urgent operation that costs a lot of money. But no one can undoubtedly say that the operation will be a success. Her non-paradise reality is not confronted in a glamour media-world – the two are wisely juxtaposed as non-conflicting parts of the same field. Hu finds a striking balance between them. Finally, the heroine gets her part in commercial, finds money for the surgery, which goes successfully. However, we anticipate tragedy in the last shot when all three heroines intersect at the ‘paradise beach’. The expected unhappy end does not come. The latent catharsis does not turn into emotional explosion, staying very suggestive. Hu’s optimistic and strong view on private hardships is fulfilled with great tension, sensuality, harmony and sophistication.