Friday, April 2, 2010

The Singing Thief with Lily Ho

Jimmy Lin Chong is back in 1969's The Singing Thief from director Chang Cheh.

After an imaginative credits sequence where Jimmy is a pirate, the film proper begins with a song as the singer sings in a nightclub wearing his Nehru-jacket and medallion.

There's a lot of nice tracking shots as the action shifts backstage where Jimmy is accused of being a jewel thief after his performance. He makes his escape through an open bathroom window.

Soon, he's at the house of his friends Guo Ji (Lo Lieh) and Tien Xin (Essie Lin Chia) where they too have heard the rumours of Poon's thievery.

There's a lot of plot-type nonsense I won't go into. Really, this film is best viewed as a kitschy time capsule and nothing more. The moments of Chang Cheh's normal heavyhandedness are totally wrong for this film and they tend to make it sillier than it already is.

And it's borderline Austin Powers territory, when viewed from the year 2010, to begin with.

Still, for Lily Ho fans, it's probably essential viewing as she does look fabulous in it, especially in that black leotard scene!

There's one scene where -- inexplicably -- Lily Ho and Jimmy Lin Chong are watching a black-and-white film sequence of Jimmy singing on a large movie screen. They are standing in front of it, both dressed in red, and chatting, and the dialogue, meant to be witty, is forced and forgettable but then Lily pulls out a cute little pistol and proceeds to shoot Jimmy's image on the big screen.

I felt like saying "I know how you feel Lily; I've wanted to do that for the last 45-minutes too!"

Nothing works here apart from the costumes and cinematography. I mean, the tones in the scenes don't mesh at all; Jimmy is cocky and a smart-ass and Lily is playing seductive. Or Lo Lieh is acting like a James Bond villain while Jimmy is joking.

Is this thing bad on purpose? A gift for future generations to chuckle over? Is this Hong Kong's version of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls?

I think the difference between something like this and one of Dean Martin's Matt Helm pictures is that old Deano was playing it totally for laughs no matter how serious the scene was supposed to be. Here, Jimmy is really trying hard to be cute and charming and that's precisely why I applauded Lily's pistol skills.

Add to that Chang Cheh, a director who sometimes makes Oliver Stone look subtle, and we have a mess of a film. Thankfully, it's under 90-minutes long.

Check out Brian's review as well.

You can order The Singing Thief on DVD here.