Charlene Choi’s performance in Sara has put many A-list Chinese actresses to shame. The once Miss Sunshine Ah Sa, the name Choi used as a single of Cantopop group Twins, has successfully presented how a fallen girl can grow into a respectful person.
Sara, a journalist, has spent four months writing a report about dirty trades between businessmen and officials, but her boss retracts it for the benefit of the magazine. Tired and disappointed, Sara goes to Thailand and somehow saves a teen sex worker Dok-My, who reminds her of her own past.
Fifteen years ago, Sara was raped by her step-father. After she ran away from home, she started an eight-year long unethical trade with Gan Hao Xian (played by Yam Tat Wah), an education officer thirty years older than her, to continue her studies. However, it’s more than just a money-sex trade for both of them. For reasons of love, Gan ended their relationship when Sara graduated. Before she went to Thailand, Gan passed away for cancer.
The director Herman Yau cares a lot about serious social issues like sex workers. As early as 2007, he shot his first film on this theme, Sex Worker-A 10 Day Discourse, depicting daily lives of sex workers in Hong Long in a documentary way. The following year, he made a second related film, True Women For Sale, telling stories of two women, a middle-age prostitute and a young mainland woman who delivers babies for others to earn a living in Hong Kong. Sara, though not a sequel to the previous two films, explores the same themes – how women fight for existence, independence and dignity in society.
It’s deeper, for it does not stop at just showing a story about a woman growing up. The audience really witnesses the process. For example, the most powerful scene in the film is when Gan goes to Sara when she is busy writing her final. She is upset about his increasingly bureaucrat style following his promotion. When Gan suspects Sara of having affairs with her classmate and forces her to shut down her computer, Sara bursts out. She throws her underwear into Gan’s face, lifts up her dress and shouts, “You want to fuck? OK! Fuck me now! Come on, quick!” Gan walks away as Sara cries, picks up her underwear and puts them back on.
This scene is not only important for the plot, but it is the defining moment for Choi to win her best actress award. The scene reveals that the relationship between the two is becoming complicated and genuine. Gan wants to be with her when he’s tired of playing his politician game and Sara gets mad with him and even begins to take the upper hand. They are in fact in love with each other. There is no client in this relationship; Sara and Gan are equal. When she was lifting up her dress, she’s actually despising Gan, a client and herself, a seller. When she picks up her underwear, she’s trying to pick up her dignity as a person.
Though sometimes the film tries too hard to make adult Sara look like a heroine, an idealist who’s full of sense of justice, it is undeniable that the story is well-told and that the performance of the whole cast is genuine and surprisingly good.