Similar to the issues raised in Japanese film My Rainy Days starring Nozomi Sasaki, Kenneth Bi's Girl$ tackles teenage prostitution in Hong Kong which proliferated with the internet chat rooms, affording materialistic girls to live a lifestyle of luxury if they decide to trade their bodies for it. But unlike its Japanese counterpart, this one is without the fairy tale romance, and rooted itself to the common issues that girls in the trade face, much like what Herman Yau tackled in his Whispers and Moans (which got credited with a direct reference), only with a lot more grit, gloom and in more laissez-faire structure. Think of it like a companion piece to Yau's film, only that it involves teenagers and outside of the brothel/karaoke system.
Girl$ serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of the flesh trade outside a regulated structure, where girls on paid dates make themselves susceptible to various crime and threats, ranging from psycho killers to that of unseen diseases. Like My Rainy Days, the modus operandi of these girls are to pimp themselves on the internet as dates for lonely men, where the usual shopping, dining and outings could make way for more intimate pleasures, only if the price for everything is right. You don't need a lot of talent to ply in a sub-genre of the world's oldest profession, and with youth as an advantage, each make quite a bit to fulfill that materialistic lifestyle and urge, without doing much work (ok, that's subjective).
Bi's film, written by no less than four scribes, puts the four leading characters through the paces, having each personality deal with a certain aspect and area of their chosen lifestyle and profession, while having them group together only solely for protection, companionship and to hang out and do girlie things when not busy with their schedules. Their friendship is really superficial, as toward the end you'd notice that they're more individuals than a group of tightly-knitted BFFs, where only one consoled the other who will be facing an eventuality, while the other two were celebrating with glee behind their backs, because they're joyful to have averted short term disaster.
Frankly I'm interested to know if such a film can be done without any pretty lass in it. Una Lin stars as Lin the nymphomaniac out for physical pleasure in the hope of finding true love, whose gratuitous nudity in the film is what made this R21 (though passed with cuts) here. Bonnie Xian plays Ronnie the bored rich girl who is extremely selective in her dates because she can afford to, and crafts a notorious reputation for herself when she rejects payment but instead pays for what she gets. Michelle Wai tackles Icy, the unofficial leader of the group who's their online agent and broker, who herself for some strange reason is keeping and sustaining a lifestyle for her good for nothing gamer boyfriend in her dingy apartment room. Then there's Gucci (Venus Wong), the schoolgirl whose interest in branded goods led her to decide to pop her cherry for cash, in order to pay for a limited edition bag she haggled online for.
Draped with plenty of shots of urban Hong Kong and Kowloon in both day and night time (play spot the landmarks, people!), the film peppers itself with cautionary statements at every opportunity against what the girls are doing, most times with newsreels. Scenes involving rape, romantic love gone awry, and even a psycho killer on the loose all play a part in padding the film, with the killer being introduced very early during the opening credits when he dismembers a teenage paid date, but sadly served no other purpose other than to have that threat hanging around each time the girls go about their business.
Ultimately Girl$ offer little depth into the issues it raised, serving only as a very broad narrative and offers little insights into this phenomenon. Take some plot points already touched upon by various films through the times, set it into today's context and the problems with young girls knowingly entering into such a trade, and you get a film that could have potentially done a lot more to raise awareness, rather than to be easily dismissed as another exploitative flick.