What could have been an insider view of the practice of compensated dating and prostitution devolves into a romantic drama involving two good looking people like we’ve seen before. I’d lost interest long before Mr. Perfect showed up.
Kevin Chu’s romantic drama, I Sell Love, is the kind of feature that comes with a lot of olive branches on the cover, indicating the film festivals have accepted it around the world, although I am not certain why. It is based on a novel of the same name by screenwriter Judy Chu. The film tells the story of a college student named Tiffany (Rose Chan) who turns to compensated dating because she is short on cash and unable to find a steady part time job that doesn’t conflict with her schooling. She soon realizes that there is more money to be had actually providing sex and contractual companionship. She feels bad about that for awhile until she meets two men and must decide between them.
It is dull. Maybe that is because looking past the compensation part, dating isn’t all that interesting. At least not in Hong Kong. If good men are difficult to find, good johns are probably rarer. But unlike prostitution everywhere else, compensated dating in Hong Kong doesn’t appear to pose any threats except to one’s self esteem and maybe some extra complications when the right man comes along. Psychological issues aside, given the way prostitution is depicted in the film, it seems the profession offers reasonable trade-offs and is safe enough to recommend to a friend who needs a bit of money. If one is willing to put up with the boredom of bad company, why not give it a go?
In this case, the right man is Parkho Chau, who plays Rex, a cheerful good looking young man, fit, in the last year of medical school, who likes children, takes care of his ailing grandmother, knows how to throw a romantic date, has time to busk on a regular basis singing songs that he writes, has a good social conscious and is going to probably inherit a lot of money. Dr. Rex has a lot going for him. Too much actually. Will he mind that he’s dating a prostitute? He actually doesn’t seem to be the kind of guy who would, although the film would be far more interesting if it spent time on that question and not so much time on how depressed and confused Tiffany feels about being a prostitute. At the very least we could delve
Neither of the leads offers much to their parts. Chau is good at playing a perfect man, but comes off more like a best friend than a romantic lead. Because his character is always cheerful, (except once when he is properly mourning death) it is difficult to determine whether or not he likes Tiffany. He is the sort who’d like anybody and seems no happier to be with Rose than he would be in a room by himself. Rose Chan on the other hand seems so detached from everybody that it is difficult to see why men would want to date her and not one of the other actresses in the film. Liu Kai-Chi probably gives the best performance as a middle aged man who is having difficulty dealing with divorce and could be trying to extend his dating contract with Tiffany into something permanent, but it’s difficult to recommend a romantic film because of a good third wheel.
I Sell Love is the kind of film I could recommend only if films about good looking people in romantic situations were difficult to find in Asia. It is too dull to be considered an exploitation film, even with the tawdry potential of its subject. But it isn’t warm enough for a romance, either, and offers few insights into its subject to make it worth seeking out as a drama.