The name Philip Keung (Ho-Man) is no stranger to most fans of Hong Kong television series (ATV, to be exact) and movies, whose acting career stretched for over 30 years since the mid-1980s. He is regularly cast in the supporting roles in numerous movies but Tracey <翠絲> finally marks a significant breakthrough for the 52-year-old screen veteran to headline the cast for the first time ever.
The movie revolves around Tung Tai-Hung (Philip Keung), a mild-mannered family man who owns an optical shop. He is married to his Chinese opera-singer wife Anne (Kara Wai) and together, they have two adult children Brigitte (Jennifer Yu) and Vincent (Ng Siu-Hin). While he proves himself to be a good husband and father, Tung has been harbouring a secret of his own for years: he believes that he is actually a female trapped inside a man’s body.
Then one day, when Tung finds out one of his childhood best friends has passed away and learns about his friend’s Singaporean widower Tann (River Huang) arriving in Hong Kong, he begins to come to his senses and subsequently decided to deal with his own identity crisis.
Philip Keung does a decent job in his first leading role and while I admire his career-risking move to play a transgender character, his overall performance isn’t as thought-provoking as I would expect in the first place. The movie doesn’t exactly dig deeper beyond his superficial transition from a closeted family man to a transgender man. It’s like as if Jun Li, making his feature-length debut as a film director, preferred to play safe with the taboo subject matter of transgender and LGBTQ in general. Which is why the screenplay itself — credited to Shu Kei, Erica Li and Jun Li — is largely hampered by surface-level storytelling. Even the emotional attempt over the course of this nearly two-hour movie feels more melodramatic than genuinely heartfelt.
And whereas Tracey <翠絲> is supposed to be a groundbreaking showcase for Philip Keung, I’m kind of surprised that most of the supporting cast largely overshadowed his performance. This includes Kara Wai, who fares better as Tung’s estranged wife and a pivotal scene where she has a tough time coping with Tung wanted to undergo a sex reassignment surgery is easily the best moment in the movie — the kind that probably boosted her chance to nab a favourable win for Best Supporting Actress this coming 38th Hong Kong Film Awards.
Another supporting role worth mentioning here is Ben Yuen, who delivers a scene-stealing performance as Brother Darling, an elderly transgender opera singer who befriends Tung during his younger days. Ng Siu-Hin and Jennifer Yu made quite an impression playing otherwise limited roles as Tung’s adult children, even though the latter’s subplot involving her cheating lawyer-husband feels more like unnecessary extra padding than a necessity for the movie.
38th Hong Kong Film Awards nominations
Best Actor (Philip Keung)
Best Supporting Actor (Ben Yuen)
Best Supporting Actress (Kara Wai)
Best Screenplay (Shu Kei, Erica Li and Jun Li)
Best Art Direction (Irving Cheung)
Best Costume & Makeup Design (Irving Cheung)
Best Original Film Score (Otomo Yoshihide)
Best Original Film Song (“Tracey” by Panther Chan)
Best New Director (Jun Li)