Saturday, May 8, 2010

Apartment for Ladies (The Umetsugu Inoue Legacy)

Betty Ting Pei gets off a plane from Taiwan for her first visit to Hong Kong and soon gets jumped by some thugs near Clear Water Bay. And so begins 1970's Apartment for Ladies. Luckily, composer Wang Tak Sang (Yang Fan) is driving by and he rescues the woman and learns that she is looking for her sister, the other half of a duo called the Canary Sisters.

Yau Suk Man (Betty Ting Pei) is soon brought to the apartment of the title, run by housemother Ouyang Sha-Fei. The dorm-like apartment is like something out of a Benny Hill Show sketch and the comedy here is very broad as the ladies are trotted out in negligees and slips and Betty's Yau Suk Man surveys the scene.

There's a lot of farcical bits with the various girls in the titular apartment and a viewer starts to realize how slight these Umetsugu Inoue plots were without the presence of stars like Lily Ho or Cheng Pei-Pei.

Lily Li carries on a secret romance with the landlady's son (Barry Chan) and that's the one non-comedic plotline of the film apart from Yau Suk Man's search for her sister.

That search doesn't even carry any dramatic weight as we don't know anything about Betty Ting Pei's character, nor her sister's -- it's just a device to get Betty Ting Pei into scenes in 1970 Hong Kong.

Soon, the broad farce gives way to drama as Lily Li's mother, Lulu (Hsia Ping), contemplates suicide after being jilted by a playboy.

Without a strong string of musical setpieces, Apartment for Ladies quickly grows tedious. While Betty Ting Pei is appealing when paired with other stars, like in The Millionaire Chase (1969), she's simply not an effective leading lady.

But the blame can't all rest with her. The wild tonal shifts in the film feel forced and a bit jarring. The sets, namely the main apartment set, and scenes are gray and dull when compared with the musical segments and sets in other Umetsugu Inoue Shaw Brothers films, and the cast -- as I think Brian has pointed out -- are largely unknowns.

Part sex-farce, part tearjerker, and small part musical, 1970's Apartment for Ladies is a bit of a disappointment -- even Lily Li is underused in this film.

Check out Brian's informative review here.

You can order Apartment for Ladies on DVD here.