Mic-go Ngan’s debut feature is a curious beast. Sex and finance have long been a staple of cinema, from the 1980s immediacy of Wall Street to the hyper-kinetic Wolf of Wall Street. Here the two genres make incredibly strange bedfellows as a set of unappealing sex scenes are jammed into an already far-fetched scenario.
Balcony, the titular members only club, is populated by high finance brokers and analysts who are looking for female companions and lots of booze. Here investment analyst Stephen (Kyle Li) encounters broker Master Alan (Julius Brian Siswojo) along with fresh recruit and university student Milo (Yoyo Fung), the latter of whom he becomes infatuated with. The film rapidly becomes caught between an uneasy set of didactic financial transactions and low-rent erotica.
From the gloriously slick opening shots of the Hong Kong skyline, frequently repeated throughout the film, MEMBERS ONLY ( 私人會所) seems like an enticing package. The post-Handover world of Hong Kong finance is a great playground for this kind of drama, or a in the case of this year’s The Sinking City: A Capsule Odyssey, an absurdist comedy about the struggle to get to the middle class. Unfortunately for Mic-go Ngan’s first film, we have something that is devoid of all those elements save for the unintentional absurdity.
Sloppy and noisy “sex scenes” punctuate long discussions of the “8715” penny stock that the main players are manipulating. As it becomes patently obvious that one of the girls is playing said players, entire story threads are lost Micro Chow and Matt Chung’s script weaves its way in and out of improbable scenarios. Indeed, Mic-go Ngan goes for long stretches before remembering that the film set itself up as a soft-core piece, so random flashes of humping pepper the third act.
Despite the harsh classification rating, at least in Australia, the so-called erotica is comparatively innocent. Nudity doesn’t get much more graphic than a side shot of a semi-clad financial wannabe. The one scene that leans closest against the sexy intent is a solo shower scene, one that culminates in the character literally licking the tiled wall. That’s just unsanitary.
Which leaves us with a film about backroom financial dealings, and a literal set of university lectures about stock trading practices. It’s like someone took the finance section of the newspaper and mashed it up with the personal classifieds. If this was a penny stock, you’d buy low and sell as quickly as possible.