Sunday, April 12, 2009

Li Ching Double Feature

I have to give credit to duriandave for this blog post of his which served as my inspiration to dig out a few more Shaw titles from my "yet-to-be-watched" pile; for those keeping score at home, that pile of Shaw DVD's is now down to 42( ! ).

The Human Goddess

This film is a weird mix of kids' film, romance, fantasy, musical, and -- thanks to one-and-a-half topless scenes with female extras -- almost a 1970's exploitation film from the Shaw Brothers' studio. The "Baby Queen" of the Shaw studios, Li Ching, stars as a goddess who wants to become human. After spying how "peaceful" the mortal world is (thanks to peeking in on Lovers' Lane in Hong Kong), she descends to Earth and promptly falls in with Chen Fengand Peng Peng ("Pigsy" from the Shaws' Journey To The West series) who run an orphanage. Said orphanage is about to be taken over by a ruthless businessman. You can almost predict the rest.

Li Ching was probably about 23 when this was filmed and she looks really cute -- dangerously cute when she wears just Chen Feng's pajama top to bed in an early scene! -- and I can't think of another Shaw actress in 1971 who could play this kind of role with such ease; a mix of cute, innocent, and sexy and a deity to boot? Only Barbara Eden and Li Ching could possibly make this kind of thing work in that era.

The male leads think that Li Ching is a hooker thanks to her saying that she lives in "The Heavenly Palace" which is the name of a hotel on Lovers' Lane, near where they run into her. And Li Ching thinks that Chen Feng's character is the reincarnation of her lover (a plot device ignored and never returned to after an early scene).

The songs are sometimes quite out-of-place but not horrible -- an early song is almost a rip-off of Mary Poppins -- but the best is one shot on location in 1971 Hong Kong with Li Ching singing in front of the HSBC building on the edge of a fountain and in other familiar landmarks (familiar to me, at least, just from films).

Another great scene is when the Goddess goes to a "psychedelic" disco, has her drink spiked by two young guys, and, instead of passing out, ends up dancing on the ceiling and pouring her drink back down into the mouth of one of the guys below! Just goofy and silly.

There is some unintentional humour when, after a mishap in trying to feed the kids in the orphanage, the Goddess suddenly puts the kids to work -- with a song, 'natch -- before they can eat. What follows looks to my 21st century perspective like the creation of a sweatshop, the kids being sung into submission to make crafts and other knickknacks before they can eat a hot meal!

The special effects are sometimes awful but there is a certain retro-charm to them; the image of Li Ching, garbed almost like Kwan Yin, hovering over the Hong Kong cityscape as the film fades out took on a weird sort of visual poetry for me, almost reminiscent of the end of Cocteau's Beauty And The Beast.

Rape Of The Sword

Don't let the title fool you; this is not some Cat. III exploitation film from the Shaw Studios but rather a routine, but exciting, little wuxia film from 1967.

The film starts with heroine Li Li-Hua in her quest to retrieve a green sword (precursor to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, perhaps?). Li Ching ends up being her student. And there are a few songs as well for some reason.

The film has a 78-minute running time and it moves quickly, so quickly that a little more backstory would have helped; I sometimes felt like I had missed something.

But the film serves as a refresher course on a LOT of Shaw actors that I've seen in other films: Chen Hung Lieh, playing another villain after his similar turn in Come Drink With Me; Ku Feng from Cheng Pei-Pei's The Jade Raksha, Golden Swallow and The Dragon Creek, among others; Tian Feng from Cheng Pei-Pei's Thundering Sword and Brothers Five; and Fan Mei Sheng, the battleaxe-wielding badass from The Water Margin and about a dozen other great films.

You can order The Human Goddess here.

You can order Rape Of The Sword here.