Fruit Chan’s latest film offers us three men in a boat, but it’s a far cry from Jerome.
In 2000, filmmaker Fruit Chan directed a film called Durian Durian, the first in a yet-to-be trilogy of films about prostitutes. The film garnered acclaim, and he released a follow-up called Hollywood Hong Kong two years later. Chan is something of a mixed bag director due to the way he tackles sensitive issues, so when the third part of the trilogy – Three Husbands – was set for release last year, it was anyone’s guess how it would turn out.
Three Husbands is about Ah Mui (Zeng Meihuizi), a woman who lives on a boat off Hong Kong harbour with her hook-handed elderly pimp (Keung Mak) and her father (Chan Man-lei). She is seemingly unable to be satisfied sexually and so works as a hooker for the local workers, who happily run constant trains on her. One of her clients, Four Eyes (Chan Charm-man, thoroughly not living up to his name), falls in love with her and wants to marry her. They do, and spend a bit of time in Hong Kong, but eventually Four-Eyes takes her back to the boat and they continue whoring Mui out.
If you cringed while reading any of that then I have some bad news: this is probably not the movie for you. Hell, I’m not entirely sure who the movie is for at all but the level of unpleasantness presented here doesn’t do it any favours. Because where Three Husbands fails is that it never seems to offer anything of actual value, always opting for the grossest option rather than anything that makes sense or has any particular substance.
And it’s not like I’m particularly averse to squeamish stuff, cringe humour or gross-out moments but there has to be a point to it. Take, for example, Vulgaria: it made its statement fairly clear within its opening few minutes, allowing us to fully understand the character choices and the narrative’s direction. The satire was plain – maybe a bit too in-your-face at times – and because it lets us in to its own cartoonish reality, it can get away with being over-the-top. Three Husbands doesn’t do that: it just sort of throws us into a bottomless pool without telling us which way is the shallow end.
Whether you like this film or not is going to be decided almost entirely on your tolerance for ludicrous situations and taboo-pushing seemingly for the sake of it and boy can it get old quick. No amount of artsy saturation loss can make me think this film is good and it even seems to know it doesn’t have a point when it switches gear midway through only to switch back like fifteen minutes later, and have everyone back on the boat whoring this poor woman out.
Because, sure, they make the excuse that Mui has this overactive libido and needs to fuck everything in sight lest she explode, but they never really make any of it seem particularly consensual. By never speaking, Mui comes across as a vulnerable person completely incapable of giving any sort of verbal consent to this frankly horrible treatment and as soon as you see the film in that light it’s damn-near impossible watch with even a shred of enjoyment.
I will give Zheng Meihuizi the credit she deserves for doing this seemingly thankless role. She goes all out with the performance, and it seems that she and the rest of the people on Three Husbands saw something clever about it, so it might just be me. Frankly, it’s hard to tell and if the satirical elements are so hidden under layers of ugly, awful crap then maybe your sly take on prostitution isn’t as clever as you thought it was. Maybe you’ll like it – there’s no accounting for taste, after all – but unlike Mui, I’m definitely not craving more.
Verdict: Less darkly comical and more just plain miserable, Three Husband wants to be John Waters and fails.
Overall entertainment: 3/10
Consensual sex: Like, 1/10?
Worst things Mui has sex with: A claw? An eel? Her own father?
Three Husbands (2018)
Also known as: 三夫
Director: Fruit Chan
Writers: Fruit Chan, Jason Lam
Zeng Meihuizi – Ah Mui
Chan Charm-man – Four Eyes
Keung Mak – Big Bro
Chan Man-lei – Second Bro
Sai Man Ho – Fatty
Larine Tang – Sau Ming
Xia Ren – Shui