Thoughts on The Lady Improper (Feifen Shounü / 非分熟女 2019)

Marketed as a midlife erotic coming-of-age film, The Lady Improper (Feifen Shounü / 非分熟女 2019), directed and cowritten by Jessey Tsang Tsui-shan with Link Sng based on Anna Lai Yuet-San’s story, follows Siu Man (Charlene Choi Cheuk-yin), whose husband and apparent first love (Deep Ng) has left her because penetrative sex is too painful for her, and who now has to navigate Hong Kong, her family restaurant’s impending closure, her father’s failing health, and her own desires as a single woman. The film is incredible for how one rotten apple—the script—spoils a truly stellar bunch.

Back home from France, where he was raised, Jiahao (Wu Kang-jen) comes to work at the restaurant, where he proves himself to be a passionate, flirtatious, womanizing hunk with boundary issues. Siu Man, after trying various ways to rid herself of her virginity and/or her longing for her ex, finally lets herself be seduced by him for what is a surprisingly good first time (making her husband look like an asshole). But then misunderstandings, contrivances, and the chivalry-obsessed supporting male character A-Him (Alex Lam) show up on the scene, taking the film straight to clichétown. I mean, for god’s sake, the emotional climax features a CGI butterfly indoors in Hong Kong.

The first half is quite good though. Wu’s acting may be a bit flat, but Choi really sells her predicament (which is supposedly based on a true story), and the luscious shots of mouthwatering food by cinematographer Yau Chung-yip whet our appetite, both gustatory and carnal. One scene stands out especially: Siu Man preparing for an online hookup by masturbating in the shower, with thoughts of her painful divorce in mind (courtesy of editor Mary Stephen).

But then, the morning after losing her v-card, her life magically turns around; she goes from ice queen to nurturing maternal figure, improves at her new hobby of pole dancing, and patches up her relationship with basically everybody. If it weren’t for the madonna-whore dichotomy of the two romantic interests, I wouldn’t’ve believed that this story was written by a woman and picked up by a woman director. And downgrading the men just makes it easier to slap “female empowerment” on the whole thing.

What I really want to see is a film about Siu Man’s pole dancing instructor (Hedwig Tam), who’s single and in complete control of her life. How did she get there?

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