Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sex, Love and Hate with Lily Ho and Ching Li

Recalling someone like Olivia Newton-John, Lily Ho opens 1974's Sex, Love and Hate with a song on stage. The mournful pop song is about finding a lover in a dream but the lyrics are not as memorable as the famous actress' feathered hair.

As the song continues, we see Ching Li on the beach with her lover. Then it's on to Hsu Feng of King Hu's Dragon Inn (1967) as she enjoys a moment with her lover in Hong Kong.

With a trippy 1970s score playing -- like something out of a Radley Metzger flick -- we see Bai Mei (Lily Ho) answer the door to Hsu Feng's Yao Yao who wants to work at the nightclub where Bai Mei sings.

Lily tells the girl as she moves into the house that money is all that matters as the impressionistic opening ends and the film proper seems to start.

Later, Yao Yao is meeting Li Ji (Chung Wa) in the nightclub and we see from the girl's expression that the couple has a past, a past we see in impressionistic flashbacks -- again!

Lily meets businessman Yueh Hua in the club and we see their meeting in a flashback as the couple has a kind of comical minor fender-bender -- they "meet cute" as the saying goes.

The third roommate in the house is Zhu Dai (Ching Li), the "heartbroken girl" according to roommate Lily Ho. Suddenly a mob of angry women shows up at the house and starts to wreck the place as it seems that Ching Li seduced the lead woman's husband.

I feel like my review is a bit of a jumble but, then again, so is the film. It's not entirely linear and there were one or two moments where I wasn't sure if what was happening was part of the flashback or part of the present action.

The movie, as others have said, is a downer but it's also a retro blast. The clothes and music and real Hong Kong locations are a treat. If the film was any longer, it would probably be insufferably dull but at just under 90 minutes, it's a pleasure in some ways.

But a large part of that is a kind of 1970s-flute-on-the-soundtrack vibe to the proceedings. There are some awful outfits on display here but Hsu Feng maintains a relatively natural sexiness and Ching Li always looks cute. Sometimes it feels like watching a 1974 Sears catalog full of Chinese people come to life but I don't mean that in a bad way, really.

I mean, if someone said to me "This film is horribly dated and the music is like Mantovanni", chances are I'm interested. I would rather see a failure from the 1970s than a successful so-called "good" film from the 1980s so take my recommendation of Sex, Love and Hate with a grain of salt.

Lily Ho was not even 30 when this was filmed and yet she seems so much older here. For those of you who think she resembles -- or calls to mind -- Gong Li, this is the film where I feel that is an apt comparison.

Look for Ouyang Sha-Fei as Chung Wa's mom. There's some kung fu as Chung Wa gets attacked for owing money to someone. Yueh Hua gets some action scenes as well.

Director Chor Yuen isn't doing anything fancy here. The memorable bits are memorable due to their kitsch appeal and not from any value as bits of film work.

But the film manages to move at a nice pace and we are talking about the mixing of multiple styles in this thing so that counts for something.

Check out Brian's review here.

The DVD is out-of-print but you can still order the VCD of Sex, Love and Hate here.