‘My Prince Edward’ questions marriage and freedom in modern Hong Kong

Society & Culture

Set in the working-class area of Prince Edward in Hong Kong, "My Prince Edward" tackles marriage, freedom, and the city’s spiraling rent. The movie is quiet and ambiguous, with themes we aren't typically asked to ponder in romantic dramas.

"My Prince Edward" Hong Kong movie

While many have lamented the fall of Hong Kong’s film industry since the 1990s (myself included), you can’t say local filmmakers haven’t been trying. The regional government’s First Feature Film Initiative, a program launched in 2013 to revitalize local filmmaking, is fighting against the decline. The initiative, a competition which gives out funding to emerging filmmakers, has sparked the release of seven productions. Thus far, the program has shown some incredible talent and potential, including the socially-conscious dramas Mad World (一念無明 yī niàn wú míng) (about mental illness) and Still Human (淪落人 lún luò rén) (touching on foreign domestic caretakers). The latest film to emerge from this initiative, Norris Wong’s My Prince Edward (金都 jīn dōu), is another such work.

Set in the working-class area of Prince Edward in Hong Kong, My Prince Edward tackles marriage, freedom, and the city’s spiraling rent. It follows Cheung Lei-fong (Stephy Tang 邓丽欣 Dèng Lìxīn) , a 31-year-old woman who works with her friend Yee at a bridal gown shop in Golden Plaza, a mall known for its wedding-related stores. Fong’s boyfriend, Edward Yan (Chu Pak-hong 朱柏康 Zhū Bǎikāng), is a wedding videographer in the same mall. Although the couple have been dating for over seven years, their lives are stuck in a rut. Their relationship is dominated by Edward’s mother, the owner of their apartment, and Edward prefers texting and playing video games over serious discussions with his girlfriend.

It’s a life that has left Fong bored and indifferent. When Edward finally proposes, Fong is far from thrilled. Instead, she’s left scurrying to fix a decade-long secret: She’s already married. When she was a young woman, Fong married a mainlander named Yang Shuwei for some quick cash. After the sham couple parted ways, the agent that arranged the marriage never actually finished the divorce proceedings. With the days ticking away to her wedding banquet, Fong runs into Shuwei on an escalator, but finds that her husband isn’t quite ready for a divorce yet. He wants a One-way Permit, which will not only make the freedom-obsessed man a permanent resident, but gives him a stepping stone on the way to his dreamland of Los Angeles.

While she helps Shuwei with his permit application, even going so far as to travel to Fujian for an interview, Fong grapples with carrying on her “real” wedding. Legally binding or not, is her next marriage any more real if she doesn’t love her boyfriend after all? Edward is clingy, and he’s also a mama’s boy not particularly eager to grow up. His mother walks into their apartment whenever she pleases, and is already trying to micromanage their wedding. All of this upsets Fong, yet it doesn’t register with Edward. He gets angry only when he discovers Shuwei, worried that Fong might cheat during her trip to the mainland.

There are some funny, sweet moments to My Prince Edward, but it would be a mistake to go in expecting a love story. The movie is quiet and ambiguous, and its questioning of marriage, whether it’s really necessary or fulfilling, is a theme we don’t typically ponder in romantic dramas. The characters are flawed, yet realistic and complicated. Edward might be an oblivious manchild, for instance, but he does genuinely seem to love Fong in his own way. The actors do a wonderful job of bringing such imperfect, layered characters to life. Chu and Tang were both nominated for best actor and actress awards in such ceremonies as the Hong Kong Film Awards, although disappointedly, neither won anything. (Chu was also nominated for best leading actor in Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards, but had a powerful contender in Chen Yi-wen’s 陈以文 Chén Yǐwén role as the grieving father in A Sun [阳光普照 yángguāng pǔzhào].)

Shot on a budget of $400,000, My Prince Edward has a strong sense of realism with its long takes, natural dialogue, and location shooting. We don’t visit much around the city, but being cramped with Fong inside her apartment and workplace help to add a degree of intimacy. At 91 minutes, My Prince Edward is also stark and concise. When it comes to some elements in the plot, such as Fong’s troubled past, we have only a few hints and facts. The ending is easily the most ambiguous part of the movie, something that might frustrate viewers who like their stories wrapped up nice and tidy.

With its excellent acting and clever, layered script, My Prince Edward is a strong debut for writer-director Norris Wong. The days of Hong Kong as a center for flashy, thrilling genre fare might well be over. The young filmmakers from the First Feature Film Initiative are a sign, however, that the industry is still producing new, interesting work.

My Prince Edward recently began playing in American theaters. You can catch a list of available and upcoming screenings here.