Dir. Wayne Wang
1989, Hong Kong, USA, 83 min
Cantonese and English with English subtitles
Exploding a seemingly simple premise – a nameless “cowboy” courier (Spencer Nakasako) arrives in pre-Handover Hong Kong to deliver a mysterious briefcase to a mercurial Mob boss whilst becoming entangled with his femme fatale mistress (Cora Miao) – independent filmmaking legend Wayne Wang’s Life is Cheap… But Toilet Paper is Expensive barrels through inspired genre deconstruction, guerrilla docu-fiction and fierce political jeremiad, all with a keen sense of humor and one of the richest visual palettes of the 1990s.
Tracking the Man-with-no-name’s increasingly byzantine mission across every level of the city’s social strata, we’re introduced to fortune families, cab drivers, hustlers, butchers and more, each punctuating the high-octane Neo-noir narrative with instantly memorable monologues that capture a now-distant era in Hong Kong history.
Multifaceted but never incoherent Life is Cheap… But Toilet Paper is Expensive is among Wang’s most unique and bracing contributions to the independent film cannon. Much-loved on the 90s international film festival circuit but unjustly overlooked in North America, this is a maverick tour de force ripe for rediscovery.
Digital restoration by Lightbox Film Center at University of the Arts in collaboration with University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Funding provided by Ron and Suzanne Naples. Restoration and remastering supervised by Ross Lipman in consultation with Wayne Wang.
Content warning: This film contains graphic scenes of animal slaughter.