Writer/ director Jenny Lu lifts the lid on the seedy underworld of massage parlours and desperate working girls in her debut feature, a well intentioned, if somewhat under-baked tale of a young lady desperate to earn some cash.
For Tina (Teresa Daley) has recently graduated from university, and moved into her boyfriend’s poky flat as she sets out to find a job of her dreams.
After much searching and little luck, Tina stumbles across an advert for a phone receptionist. Figuring it’s well within her skill set, she heads over for an interview, only to discover she’s being offered a job at an illegal massage parlour, where a trio of young ladies service numerous clients a day.
As her desperation for cash increases, Tina finds herself taking the job on, keeping the truth hidden from her boyfriend while pulling in enough cash to get by (he’s a jobless loser).
Through Tina’s eyes we begin to witness how the working girls do their thing. These’s the confident, experienced Sasa (Shiang-chyi Chen), the slightly-nutty Mei (Amanda Fan) and new girl Anna (Teng Shuang) whose brief sub-plot provides a level of pathos otherwise missing from a story that should do far more to stir up emotion.
Indeed, the practicalities of the operation seem to be as of much interest to director Lu as the plot points that offer potential for heartbreaking developments. Lu insists on showing the challenges facing the brothel’s madam, Lilly (Sophie Gopsill), from dealing with an angry landlord to making sure the clients are kept happy.
But really, it’s Anna’s heartbreaking spiral and Sasa’s cracking facade that should be of primary interest, certainly more than Tina keeping her dodgy employment a secret.
Fortunately the cast make the most of the limited story time. Particularly Chen, who offers emotional layers to a woefully underwritten character.
When the camera lingers over Chen in the final stages of the story, a far smarter, more touching film threatens to take over. Sadly, it’s too little too late.