Monday, February 15, 2010

We Love Millionaires (R.I.P. Umetsugu Inoue 1923 - 2010)

According to this 15 February 2010 news article -- translated into English via Google -- Japanese director Umetsugu Inoue died of a brain hemorrhage.

Here's another news story from Variety that places the director's death on 11 February 2010.

Director Inoue had a long career but he will be remembered by people like me as the director of the best Shaw Brothers musicals. His filmography lists his many wonderful films. I recently watched, enjoyed, and reviewed The Yellow Muffler and Whose Baby Is In The Classroom?, and a lot of those other titles were some of the first films I purchased and enjoyed when the Shaw Brothers reissues started up in 2003.

As I didn't have this blog back then, I didn't review them -- I've been too busy catching up on all unwatched titles in my collection for the past year.

According to The Shaw Screen: A Preliminary Study, Umetsugu Inoue came to Hong Kong in 1965, having signed a contract with the Shaw Studios to make 100 films. He made 17.

The musical ones seem to blend together in my mind and they all have the "organic" progression that The Shaw Screen: A Preliminary Study also mentions.

But this quote serves to highlight some important things about his work as a director:

"[The style] is often cheesy...Inoue is a studio director through and through, who does not let ideas or artistic effects distract him. The formula he represents is something of a departure for Hong Kong cinema, but not a radical one...Inoue's facility, plasticity, and nocturnal environments are supposed to appeal to a younger, more cosmopolitan, and uninhibited audience."

I think this is why, when I watch something like We Love Millionaires, that I am completely happy; there's no message, no subtext, nothing but pure studio product being pumped out to please kids.

You can see a studio trying to appeal to kids in 1971 -- sometimes failing, probably -- and you can see a time capsule of the era too; heck, the girls in We Love Millionaires seem to have new outfits in every scene! So much for being poor department store employees!

(Maybe they were stealing merchandise from the stock room?)

The difference between these pictures and something like Beach Blanket Bingo -- and I'm just hypothesizing here -- is that the AIP picture feels like something that even in 1965 was meant to appeal to an audience of kids younger than the characters on screen.

Inoue's films, on the contrary, feel like they are meant for girls at home in Hong Kong wanting to dress like Lily Ho.

They are just as corny in many ways but they are fun because you can see a Western style filtered by a Japanese director into a Chinese commercial product.

So, today, as a way of remembering the legacy of director Umetsugu Inoue, I'm going to rewatch 1971's We Love Millionaires and see how it holds up.

Opening over great scenes of a bustling Hong Kong, circa 1971, We Love Millionaires begins in great fashion. The cute Yili (Irene Chen) gets virtually crushed getting off the ferry. The poor girl loses her glasses and then her shoe and ends up running to work with one wrong shoe.

Cut to Lily Ho working a perfume counter in a large department store. With her beehive hairdo, she is a picture of 1970s sexiness. No wonder the old male customers are smitten with her.

So the three girls -- Nancy Ho (Lily Ho), Lin Yili (Irene Chen), and Bai Luhua (Korean actress Chui Chi Suk) -- give up their jobs in the large Hong Kong department store and set off for Japan in order to find rich husbands.

They board the cramped boat at Hong Kong harbour and promise to return in first class.

The girls are desperate and so use a popular bestselling book, We Love Millionaires, to guide them as they prepare for arriving in Japan to fulfill their dreams of finding rich husbands.

Sun Peishan (Lee Kwan) picks up the girls at the dock in his dilapidated car. Yili reads a letter from her fiance, Lishan, announcing that he's found another woman.

En route to Lake Biwa, the girls are passed by a bus carrying guys from Kobe University. As Bai leans out of the window to ask for a song, the guys are soon bursting into one -- complete with backup singers; where are they hiding? -- on the bus in a scene reminiscent of any number of American International "beach" pictures.

The car breaks down and within seconds rich and handsome Gao Lang (Ling Yun) pulls up in a new car to whisk the girls away, with Nancy blabbering to the guy that the girls are the daughters of bank presidents and other industry leaders back in Hong Kong.

Nancy plans to have the trio stay with her rich uncle on the shores of Lake Biwa until it turns out that the man is simply housesitting and not living in his own fancy mansion.

The uncle puts the girls up with the warning that they will have to leave when the tenants return.

So the trio sets out to turn heads at the pool. Poor Yili (Irene Chen) has been badgered into not wearing her glasses so, while walking sexily down by the water, she falls in.

Nancy (Lily Ho) soon discovers that Gao Lang is not a rich guy after all but just a college student.

There's a lot of silliness -- but wonderful 1971-era silliness -- as the girls attempt to find their men. Bai hooks up with a musician from that university bus, Lily's Nancy is pursued by Gao Lang, and the perpetually clueless Yili has an older jeweller after her.

There are thieves after that older jeweller as well. The jeweller is smitten with Yili, especially when she removes her glasses since she then looks like his dead wife.

Bai is serenaded by the band leader -- again! -- as it seems like that character is always singing the same song, while Lily's Nancy is being wooed by the cocky Gao Lang.

Meanwhile, Sun Peisahn (Lee Kwan) is plotting to rob the jeweller's hotel room.

There's a great moment where the girls debate returning to Hong Kong and Lily Ho's character, seeing a trumpet-soundtracked montage of the crowds from the beginning of the film, decides that they will stay and try to find husbands in Japan rather than return to that!

It would be foolish to try to recount more of the plot as -- of course -- it ends with more music and more Technicolor manic nonsense.

A proper review of this would list Lily Ho's outfits and hairstyles over any other pluses of the movie.

After all, this film, disposable at the time, now works as a nice, innocent little 92-minute ride into 1971 Hong Kong youth culture...even if the majority of the film takes place in Japan and was helmed by a Japanese director!

Check out Brian's review here.

You can order We Love Millionaires on DVD here.

UPDATE: Here's a funny scene from the film, originally posted to YouTube by duriandave of Soft Film: Vintage Chinese Cinema: