“Magazine Gap Road” – 2009 NY Asian Film Festival Review

Despite its bizarrely outlandish name, Magazine Gap Road is a real, winding road that leads to The Peak, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods of Hong Kong – not exactly a familiar setting for the gritty violence of Johnnie To, the wavering morality of Edmund Pang Ho-Cheung or pretty much any Hong Kong film in recent memory. Perhaps its unfamiliarity to local stalwarts like these is why London-born Chinese director Nicholas Chin’s independent film from 2007 has flown so far under the radar. It’s unfortunate because “Magazine Gap Road” is one of the boldest Hong Kong-based films released by a first-time director in years.

The film revolves around Samantha (Jessey Meng), who is living a life of privilege as curator of a private museum on The Peak. However, Samantha’s past life as a high-priced escort – linked to a violent Hong Kong sex trade ring – comes back to haunt her when she receives a call for help from an old escort friend, the heroin-addicted Kate. With the help of an alcoholic ex-cop Mao (Elvis Tsui), Samantha helps Kate kick the habit. However, that act of kindness may threaten to unravel everything Samantha has gained.

Control is a major theme of the movie, and to the characters of “Magazine Gap Road” it’s quite a mercurial state of mind. Each character attempts to overcome or take possession of something or someone, be it drugs, alcohol, money or each other. The core of the film is Samantha, who fights not to protect her newfound upper-crust life, but to earn the right to live as someone free of being owned by others. Meng’s excellent portrayal of Samantha alternates between steely confidence and internal struggle, giving the character a compelling edge.

With its feminist overtones and unhurried pace, Nicholas Chin’s “Magazine Gap Road” is a film unlike any other from Hong Kong to date. It’s a remarkable a breath of fresh air in a movie market that’s beginning to recover from a long slumber.