Director: Lui Mei Fung
Cast: Chrissie Chau, Gillian Chung, Karena Ng, Carrie Ng
Runtime:1 hr 28 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 7 September 2023
Synopsis: Top Sis (Chrissie Chau) was a successful businesswoman who is framed and sent to prison. She quickly realises that there is a turf war going on with Mrs. Ball (Gillian Chung). In light of self-preservation, she joins forces with Kelly (Karena Ng) and Mother Bo (Carrie Ng) to go against Mrs. Ball. She uses her business skills and turns the black market within the prison upside down. The war between the two clans continues to heighten.
Those old enough to know the women-in-prison subgenre might be curious to find out if ‘Prison Flowers’ is a throwback to the Cat III Hong Kong films from the 80s. Unfortunately, except for an entirely gratuitous bare back shot, there is nothing remotely scintillating about this tedious redemption drama, which probably should have stayed in its own incarceration after a four-year delay.
A barely competent Chrissie Chau anchors the film as Tai Yim-kwan, a successful businesswoman who is sent to prison after being framed for embezzlement. Ignorant of the hierarchy within the inmates, Tai – otherwise known as Top Sis – unwittingly offends resident bully Mrs Ball (Gillian Chung). Compared to Chau, Chung fares even worse as the prison matriarch, exuding neither menace or awe.
For her own survival, Top Sis joins Mother Bo’s (Carrie Ng) clique, and together decide to set up their own cigarette trading business to rival that of Mrs Ball. So the film doesn’t end up on the wrong side of the censors, a prologue carefully explains how the setting is pre-handover to China, when the British rulers could hardly care about running the colony properly and where therefore such illegal activities even behind bars were rampant.
As much as the synopsis teases a showdown between Top Sis and Mrs Ball, their rivalry hardly amounts to anything compelling within the movie. Instead, the real villain here is Butcher Wan (Rain Li), a psychopathic career offender who had stabbed Mrs Ball in the abdomen just before her last release from jail. It doesn’t take long before Top Sis and Mrs Ball decide to team up against Butcher Wan, not least when the latter indirectly recruits Mother Bo’s daughter Bobo (Jeannie Chan) just to spite Bo.
Making her feature debut, short-film director Lui Mei-fung falls back on the usual melodramatic narrative tropes to pit Top Sis and Mrs Ball against Butcher Wan. You can see coming the unfortunate demise of one of the characters, which will reinforce the alliance between the two former factions led by Top Sis and Mrs Ball respectively. Likewise, you’d expect too that there is a sob story behind each of our protagonists, which has led to their imprisonment.
Sadly for Lui, she has neither the finesse to turn this into a cliched but engaging genre piece nor the actresses to deliver the material. Oh yes, there is no guilty fun to be had here, with the plot turns and dialogue taken with tin-eared seriousness. The setting too is poorly constructed, with only as much realism as a cut-rate TV drama. Whether the intention was to be gritty or trashy, the result is ultimately cringe-worthy.
Indeed, there is nothing pretty about the movie, notwithstanding its pretty-faced cast. Compared to the male-driven ‘Breakout Brothers’ by the same production company, this attempt at a female-driven prison movie falls utterly flat. Given the sociopolitical climate today, it is not realistic to expect that ‘Prison Flowers’ will aim to be a modern-day Cat III exploitation film; that said, we had hoped at least for more drama and less cliches. Like we said, it’s probably better if this production had stayed in own prison.
(Neither trashy or compelling, this tedious prison drama is bogged down by melodramatic cliches, amateurish execution and mis-casting)
Review by Gabriel Chong