Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cherie Chung Double Feature

My Darling Genie

Perhaps the most famous bit of this film is the still/poster of Cherie Chung dressed up like an island girl, tan, teased hair, bare midriff; it's a small scene in the film but, obviously, it sticks in one's head.

Cherie plays a genie/goddess/whatever hidden in an ancient Chinese umbrella in a cave underneath a construction site in Hong Kong. Construction worker Derek Yee (yes, the future director) finds her and frees her from the umbrella; it seems a combination of water on the umbrella and/or just extending it will free the delightful genie.

Yee's character's father owes money to local gangsters and the rest of the film consists of hijinks involving them, led by comedian Yi Lui who looks a bit like Adam Sandler. Or maybe Frank Stallone.

To his credit, Yee's character first instructs the genie to heal a local boy in a wheelchair. Then the boy's mother thinks that she's been blessed and so prays for luck in mahjong and gambling. And so on.

The “running around” of the film’s plot gets tedious after a while and the film is, honestly, sometimes a chore to sit through. Cherie is cute, playing a wide-eyed innocent with the same skills she would later show in Peking Opera Blues. And the DVD picture is anamorphic widescreen, which is a nice touch. These Shaw re-issues look better than many other films from this era (1984).

It’s not quite as bad as similar Wong Jing films (Prince Charming, How To Pick Up Girls) from this era but it’s certainly silly.


This film started off promisingly but it remained a very weird mix of farce, romance, and seeming lite sexploitation romp for this viewer.

Cherie Chung plays Cherie, an aerobics instructor (yes, we get to see her in all manner of tight spandex outfits -- she even wears an exercise outfit out on a dinner date!) being wooed by an older man. A very young and quite handsome Tony Leung Ka-Fai plays a lonely photographer who, while driving his car in circles in the middle of nowhere, almost runs over the dripping wet Cherie who swam to shore after jumping off the old guy's yacht. Whew!

That setup is a bit contrived but the early scenes with Cherie and Tony are quite good; the photography and art direction are high quality, and the love scenes are tasteful and still sexy -- Cherie has a bit of semi-nudity that, I'm sure, is probably legendary among film fans. This section of the film surprised me with its tenderness, and the abundant chemistry between the two young and beautiful stars is very apparent with the wordless love scene up the stairs of Tony's house quite expertly crafted.

And Tony shows his bare backside about 10 times in this film, if he's more to your liking than the angelic Cherie.

But Cherie is just stunningly beautiful in this film; it's unbelievable to me how she would ever end up in 4th Place in the Miss Hong Kong Pageant!

The film is beautiful to look at and the quality of the film-making -- at least the visual aspects -- shouldn't be a surprise as the director, Patrick Tam, went on to be Wong Kar-Wai's editor on Ashes of Time and Days of Being Wild. And the old businessman trying to woo Cherie is played by Chu Yuan, the director Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan and The House of 72 Tenants, among other Hong Kong classics.

The plot soon spins wildly out-of-control as it turns out that Leung Ka-Fai's character wants money from the old businessman to make films, prompting a wild scheme meant to deceive Cherie into thinking that Tony is dying of cancer so that she will leave Tony and he’ll get to make films and the businessman will get Cherie.

Then, with almost no explanation, there is a wild chase to the Club Med facility in Malaysia where the films ends on a beach with the three main character arguing and throwing fruit at each other.

If I was a film student, I could probably do some BS-thesis on the end of the film -- the symbolism of the fruit and all that -- but I somehow don't think the director was aiming for that kind of meaning, despite his obvious talents.

No, I think the film is typical of many Hong Kong films of that era as it veers wildly through genres, sometimes in the space of a few scenes. Still, that's why I love these films.

There is a certain freedom at work here, and economy of production, that one just doesn't find in Western films.

And the other thing you can't find in any Western film is a beauty like Cherie Chung. She remains, in this movie fan's imagination at least, the Grace Kelly of Hong Kong cinema (as this photo from last Christmas illustrates).

You can order My Darling Genie here -- amazingly, it's not out-of-print yet.

You can order the VCD of Cherie here -- the DVD is out-of-print.