Monday, March 22, 2010

The Millionaire Chase (The Umetsugu Inoue Legacy)

There's so much fun to be had in 1969's The Millionaire Chase that the singing starts during the credits. Over a decidedly retro cartoon sequence, the three leading ladies start a song.

After that, we see Betty Ting Pei, Lily Ho, and Chin Ping dancing on stage as Peter Chen Ho enters the club. After ordering a brandy, he is joined by a singer, Liu (Angela Yu Chien). As he mentions plans for a trip to Southeast Asia, she reveals that her husband is coming. Peter Chen Ho is, naturally, disappointed and Lily Ho is jealous as she finishes the song.

Chin Ping's guy, Melon (director/actor Ho Fan), is dancing with another woman and Zhinan (Betty Ting Pei) gets the hiccups when approached by cute waiter Chin Feng.

Every Shaw movie should be as much fun as The Millionaire Chase. It's just so disposable and the three leads are so sexy and cute that it's a totally intoxicating time capsule of another era.

I mean, it's not an insult to say that you could watch this film without understanding Mandarin, or using the subtitles, and still get the basic plot and thoroughly enjoy the onscreen antics.

And, as with any Lily Ho film from this era set in modern times, the film becomes a kind of parade of hairstyles and cool outfits, the viewer being a bit delightfully surprised with each new "look" for Lily in each scene.

The film is so silly there's even a pie fight in the first 15 minutes!

Really, as a fan of this sort of thing I can barely contain my glee during scenes like the one where a bespectacled Lily Ho saunters into an airport to catch her Cathay Pacific flight and old men practically drool at her figure. Sitting next to Angela Yu Chien's old sugar daddy husband, Goo Man Chung, the starlet braces herself for the ride to Taipei where she plans to win back Peter Chen from Angela Chien Yu's clutches.

Chin Ping sits next to Paul Wei Ping Ao, a rich restaurant chain owner.

And Betty Ting Pei is trapped next to Cheung Pooi Saan, who she bores with stories of her plans to marry a millionaire.

As Angela Yu Chien takes a bubble bath, she calls Peter Chen on a convenient bathside telephone and hatches a plan to get Lily Ho's Yip Fang to divert her husband so she can spend time with Peter.

Soon enough, she's dragging the old man to a nightclub as Peter Chen and Angela Yu Chien show up nearby.

Of course, nice girl Chin Ping, the one who didn't want to marry a millionaire, ends up trapped by Paul Wei Ping Ao as the businessman reveals he's not all he's cracked up to be. He attacks the girl in a soundproof room! She's rescued just in time by waiter (?) Chin Feng -- how did he get from Hong Kong to Taipei? He wasn't on that plane with the rest of the stars was he?

Then, Goo Man Chung is hatching a plan to have private detectives catch his wife with Peter Chen Ho so that he can obtain proof of her infidelity, divorce her, and marry Lily Ho. So then, Lily Ho races off to warn Peter of the plan.

This all raises a very serious question: Lily Ho or Angela Yu Chien? Normally, I'd be with Lily all the way but, at least in this film, Angela Yu Chien is beyond adorable. With her sexy smile, bangs, and stylish threads, she's alluring and cute in a very 1969 kind of way while Lily Ho, still a young actress, gets saddled with the amazing outfits and hairdos of someone a bit older and more mature.

Then the girls are off to Japan. As was typical with most of these films, they were shot mainly on studio lots in Hong Kong apart from a few location shots. Actually, I was a bit surprised as The Millionaire Chase had one scene with Betty Ting Pei on a real Taipei location but, for the most part, it's a montage of locations and then onto the sets made to look like Japan, for example.

In a quiet moment at the Japanese hot springs, Angela Yu Chien asks Lily Ho to leave her husband alone and she'll return Peter Chen to her. Seems that Angela Yu Chien needs the old man's money.

Meanwhile, Betty Ting Pei is falling for her guy, and Lily Ho and Peter Chen Ho are having dinner at a Japanese restaurant. The sight of Lily Ho falling out of a royal blue kimono is worth the price of this DVD alone.

A drunk Chin Ping is badgering her boy Melon back at the club. Seems that Melon brought his other girl with him.

Maybe it's the result of Umetsugu Inoue wanting to show off his homeland, but there are a surprising number of scenes of the three girls in Hakone, Japan. It's a nice change from that usual backlot stuff.

But then there's more drama and song and comedy and another flight, this time to Bangkok.

But to focus on the plot is to waste your time. I mean, the plot is just a device to keep the film moving.

That said, The Millionaire Chase does have some energetic bits involving jewel thieves and a finale set in Thailand. Unlike Hong Kong Nocturne (1967), this film has little drama. Without Cheng Pei-Pei acting as a sort of maternal presence like she is in portions of Hong Kong Nocturne (1967), this film alternates between comedy and music; sure, there are some of the same class concerns as in the other films, but this time they are dealt with in a humorous fashion.

Frankly, The Shaw Screen: A Preliminary Study (2003) makes a bit too much of that class issue. The issues of marrying well, or finding a good spouse after having a fun youth, are not so much class issues as they are the issues that most young women -- and some young men - would have in 1969.

Those themes are always ways to highlight a division between young and old -- something this film explicitly takes on in some comedy bits between Peter Chen Ho and Lily Ho -- so as to deal with a new youth culture that was increasingly active and vocal in the late 1960s.

But, let's not read too much into this film. It's fun, full of beautiful people and beautiful locales, and there are some songs thrown into the mix as well.

I think it's worth noting that with the exception of the song sung by Chin Ping to Cheung Pooi Saan in the baseball stadium in Japan, all of the songs in this film are part of the stage show put on by the three female leads. The story doesn't really need any musical sequences, nor does it lend itself to that kind of lyricism where characters suddenly burst into song and dance off into the night.

I understand why Hong Kong Nocturne is the important film that garners critical analysis but let me be honest: The Millionaire Chase is more fun to watch.

It's empty, like a Twinkie, but you can't eat gourmet food all the time. Sometimes you just need a sugar fix.

Check out Brian's review of The Millionaire Chase here.

You can order The Millionaire Chase on DVD here.