Saturday, October 3, 2009

Li Ching in Tales Of Larceny

Tales of Larceny (1973)

This 76-minute anthology feature (really, it's only two segments) is another slightly erotic feature from the Shaw Brothers studios from this era.

The big selling point is the presence of Li Ching in one of the segments and she does seem to be playing things a bit sexier than normal (though, really, she's still a baby-faced charmer as usual).

The first segment, The Scholar and The Soldier, from director Ching Gong (who also directed Twelve Gold Medallions, among many other features), is an approximately 40-minute story chronicling the seduction of a Confucian scholar by Li Ching's Zhang Liu, a young recent widow, as well as the madcap attempts to marry off the scholar's daughter.

Dean Shek Kin is the crafty huckster who catches the scholar in bed with the not-so-chaste-after-all Zhang Liu which allows him to squire away the scholar's daughter.

The 40 or so minutes fly by with this breezy tale that also features a parade/festival scene with a good dozen Shaw character actors and actresses lining the crowd. This scene is like a little "Who's Who" of the studio -- if you watch the film, see how many you can recognize.

Paul Wei Ping Ao plays the scholar's bumbling idiot of a son (or was he just a student? I was never quite sure).

The second segment was directed by the legendary Li Han Hsiang (director of Passing Flickers which featured a few segments on a movie set that looked like it could have been the one from a film like this). Unfortunately, this segment didn't feature English subtitles on the titles, or the opening background crawl, as well as in a critical scene involving a fortune teller's prediction for Chung Wa and his wife, Ha Ping.

I will admit to being a bit confused by this segment as it seemed like there were two stories going on at once that didn't seem to connect. Look for Ouyang Sha-Fei as a beggar woman.

And there is a segment where a trio of lovelies seduce a street performer with the seduction serving as a sort of show to a group of men in balconies above the round bed. I recognized two of the women from other Shaw features from the era.

The film, on the whole, felt like a dozen other titles from this era and, apart from seeing Li Ching in something like this, it's hard for me to see any other reason to sit through this.

It's not like Li Han Hsiang didn't make at least a dozen similar films during this period.

It irritates me that so much attention was shown to restoring and releases these Shaw features and, yet, for something as simple as subtitles on scenes with on-screen titles -- or a scene with a written note from a character -- there's nothing.

Additionally, for something like this, a full cast list would have been a very nice touch. Having watched more than 120 Shaw features, even I am still in that stage where I can recognize faces but forget the English names.

You can order Tales of Larceny on DVD here.