Synopsis by Mark Deming
Asian-American filmmaker Wayne Wang returns to the city of his birth for this surreal, violent, and darkly comic look at the seamy underside of life in Hong Kong. A young man of Chinese/Japanese heritage (Spencer Nakasako) working at a racetrack in San Francisco is hired by gangsters to deliver a briefcase to the Big Boss (Lo Wai), a notorious leader of Hong Kong's organized crime syndicate. Dressed in western clothes and proclaiming himself "The Man with No Name," the courier arrives in Hong Kong with the briefcase chained to his wrist, but this doesn't stop a group of enterprising young hoodlums from stealing it from him. As he searches for his precious cargo, the man tries desperately to rendezvous with the Big Boss, only to hear a dizzying variety of excuses from his second-in-command (Lam Chung) as to why the Boss can't or won't see him. The courier also has to deal with his elderly Uncle Cheng (Cheng Kwan Ming), who would rather show off his latest dance routines than help his nephew save his own neck. The man also witnesses all sorts of bizarre and bewildering behavior, from a restaurant that serves feces to a prostitute who announces she doesn't mind being abused, though she's tired of not being paid for it. Directed by Wayne Wang in collaboration with actor Spencer Nakasako, Life Is Cheap...But Toilet Paper Is Expensive was released by Wang with a self-imposed "A" rating (for "Adult") after being threatened with an "X" by the MPAA ratings board; the film contains no explicit sex, but the MPAA was troubled by the film's gangland violence and pervasive bad taste.
crime-spree, briefcase, cab-driver, eccentric, gangster, handcuffs, lesbianism, messenger, mob-boss, prostitute/prostitution, slice-of-life, city, expensive, life, man, rat [animal], secrets