Lest anyone forget, Ng won her first and thus far only Golden Horse Best Actress award for the role back in 2002, where she played the plucky (ok, pun intended) and likable Ah Kam whose vicissitudes was cast against the changing fortunes of Hong Kong over the years. As much as it was a character showcase for Ng, the Samson Chiu and Matt Chow-scripted movie was also a love letter to their home territory, a celebration of the go-getter spirit which has made Hong Kong triumph over the odds from the 1980s right up till the early 2000s.
Circumstance created an inevitable sequel just ten months later, as 'Golden Chicken 2' reflected on Hong Kong's most trying period yet, i.e. the SARS epidemic of 2003. It was a valentine to the resilience that the people of Hong Kong displayed, mirrored in the same perseverance that Ah Kam showed during that period. But it was also evidently a more weakly scripted film, which was ultimately borne out by the less than stellar box office results - hence the absence of a third film till now.
Suffice to say that even fans of 'Ah Kam' who were disappointed by the last sequel will probably feel nostalgic about her return so many years later - and yet even that is probably not enough to make up for an even more lazily plotted sequel that rests too heavily on its impressive list of star cameos. Indeed, Ng has pulled out all the stops to get some of Hong Kong showbiz's most recognisable faces to turn up for the return of her 'Golden Chicken' - and the poster proudly touts many of these, including Anthony Wong, Donnie Yen, Chin Kar Lok, Alex To, William So, Raymond Wong, Ronald Cheng, Jim Chim, Lo Hoi Pang, Louis Koo and an unbilled Andy Lau (stay back for the end credits if you wish to catch that).
Matt Chow returns to script and for the first time direct the movie, and to his credit, he doesn't let one second of their precious time go to waste. Some are specifically designed to riff on their previous roles (like Donnie Yen playing 'Ip Man' to riff on 'The Grandmasters'), while other more substantial ones are exaggerated caricatures of their real- life personas - our favourite here is Louis Koo hamming it as his own impersonator from the Mainland, complete with poor Cantonese and a flamboyant get-up. In fact, the episodic nature of the movie suggests that it was written and re-written to ensure maximum star wattage - and for that matter, the best use of it.
What that also means in this case is a general lack of purpose and coherence. After an extended prologue laying out the evolution of the term 'chicken', the first half of the movie pretty much details the day- to-day routine of a 'mamasan', whom we are told not only needs to fight with other 'mamasans' for a limited pool of girls but also offer value- added services (like queuing to register at a popular kindergarten) to their regular clients. But when one of her regulars, an acupuncturist played by Jim Chim, suggests she pay a visit to Japan to learn some new tricks of the trade, she promptly leaves for Nippon-land to meet with a barely-there Edison Chen and a much-funnier Wyman Wong as the 'King of BJ'.
Only in the second half does some semblance of a story take shape, with Nick Cheung playing 'Ah Kam's' former love Gordon, a righteous triad leader who has just been released from prison. Together with his right- hand man Jackie (Eason Chan), 'Ah Kam' conspires to keep the truth of the reality from Gordon, whose mentality remains stuck in that of the 1990s. Though both are excellent actors in their own right, Ng and Cheung ultimately share less chemistry with each other than Ng's previous outing with Jacky Cheung in 'Golden Chicken 2', so much so that this detour into romantic territory seems unnecessary and uninvolving.
Even more important than the fact that it doesn't have a poignant angle to Hong Kong (despite trying to say something about the spate of protests in recent years) like the previous two films is the prominence of 'Ah Kam' in her own movie. Ng has always been front and centre with her character, but here she is almost like a talk show host whose act is less important than the revolving list of guests she has on her programme. To put it simply, 'Ah Kam' feels somewhat inconsequential here, without a compelling arc for her character that's supposed to be rightly the centre of attention.
And so, 'Golden Chickensss' feels less like an addition to the franchise than a Lunar New Year comedy built around the titular character. Certainly, it is nowhere as meaningful nor poignant as either one of the earlier movies, and when compared to them, will probably end up the worst of the lot. But against the lowered expectations of a CNY comedy, there are still some good laughs to be had, as well as the pleasure of seeing an all-star cast that's quite definitely the most star-studded in any Hong Kong movie this year. It's not the award-winning material it used to be, but if all you're looking for is some humour and entertainment, then 'Golden Chickensss' provides just that kind of throwaway fun.