Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Delinquent with Lily Li

1973's The Delinquent is another Chang Cheh-codirected feature starring Wong Chung and Lily Li. This tale of gangs in modern Hong Kong begins with a very dated/very trippy credits sequence with Wong Chung bursting through cardboard backdrops of the city of Hong Kong with wild negative lighting warping the picture.

The film opens with Wong Chung delivering food from a restaurant to a place on Temple Street. The street scenes of 1973 Hong Kong are a treat but there are too many close-ups to get a sense of place. The food is delivered to a martial arts school in an apartment and John (Wong Chung) has to try his hand at it again -- seems he took kung fu lessons but quit sometime earlier.

John goes home to his small apartment and his dad berates him. Codirector Kuei Chih Hung could be the reason that the early scenes in this film don't feel too much like another Chang Cheh film. Yes, there's the emphasis on a man's place in the world -- machismo and all that jazz -- but the early scenes here feel quite naturalistic despite bursts of music or a telegraphed melodramatic moment.

Fan Mei Shang is some kind of gang boss who bullies the same kids who are bullying John at his restaurant -- there's some fights in a junkyard but they are largely uninteresting -- and the gang boss spends his time with hookers in dayglo clothes as he gives orders to his gang.

In a scene like something out of a Hollywood film of the 1930s, Tung Lam and Betty Tei Pei pull up in a sportscar as Wong Chung is fighting in the street. They observe the boy and make plans to woo him with a girl and money -- for what, we in the audience don't quite know yet. It's silly but The Delinquent is frequently silly in its attempts to say something "Big" about the state of youth in 1973 Hong Kong.

Fan Mei Shang takes the kid to a brothel and there's a fair amount of nudity in this scene which is otherwise laughable -- we see the guy's father sitting at home waiting for the kid even as he's in a garish apartment whorehouse with some Chinese hooker. It's a riot of 1970s conventions in this flick.

It turns out that John's dad works for Tung Lam and so Fan Mei Shang has been tasked to recruit the boy to settle some score.

There's more fighting and a dirtbike fight/chase on a beach. The kid gets arrested, his dad won't bail him out, and some gangsters wearing suits out of Dick Tracy (1990) show up to rough up Fan Mei Shang.

The second half of the film turns largely dramatic as John gets further involved with the gang lifestyle but rest assured there are still more fights to be endured.

Really, The Delinquent bored the crap out of me; not campy enough to be 1970s fun and not realistic enough to be watched with a straight face, this was a case of 100 minutes feeling like 300.

And Lily Li is in this thing for less than 10 minutes. I guess Chang Cheh has plenty of time for a nude scene with some unknown actress playing a hooker but not enough time to give Lily something to do in her small part.

No, this is a guy's film and while that could work for me, here it didn't. The action just felt tired and drab.

Sure, Wong Chung's final assault on the apartment brothel had some intensity to it but, by that point, I didn't really care who survived the brutality.

Without giving away the ending, I did like the very final segment of the film where the 1970s techniques seemed to match the action unfolding on the screen but, by then, it was too late to win me over.

You can order The Delinquent on DVD here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Police Force with Lily Li

Am I the only fanboy who likes Chang Cheh's modern stuff -- like the campy Young People (1972) and this film -- more than his famous martial arts epics, like 1973's The Blood Brothers? After watching 1973's Police Force, I'm beginning to think so.

In a masterful, almost wordless 10 minute sequence, a young man (Alexander Fu Sheng) and woman (Lily Li) arrive at a police academy in Hong Kong where the young man enters a martial arts tournament and wows all in attendance, including Wong Chung. It doesn't hurt that in this sequence, several musical cues are lifted from Marvin Gaye's wonderful score for the not-so-great 1972 film, Trouble Man.

The charismatic Alexander Fu Sheng is killed so Lily Li's friend, Wong Chung, is inspired to join the police force.

Over the inevitable training montages, Police Force turns into a bit of a commercial for the Hong Kong police force. But the very things that are dated about this picture are the things that make it cool to me. Like Young People, the film is a bit overwrought and unintentionally campy but that's sort of why I enjoyed it so much. Lily Li sports a variety of hairstyles and gets to look worried in the early parts of the film but, as it's a Chang Cheh film, I didn't expect that the actress would have much of a part.

Still, she's the moral catalyst of the film and seems to nudge Wong Chung towards vengeance through the efforts of the police squad.

Wong Chung and Lily Li walk Stanley Beach -- I was there, in the spots shown in the film, in April and it looks the same as it did in 1973!

The film is a bit long but I appreciated the largely dialogue-free action set pieces and the use of real Hong Kong locations, though an ending on the boats of the Hong Kong marine police force felt a bit overdone.

Police Force was codirected by Tsai Yang Ming and I wonder if the film's success for me was due to that 2nd director tempering the Chang Cheh-isms that I am not too fond of.

Wong Chung enlists Lily Li in his efforts to track down Alexander's killer -- some five years have passed according to the subtitles -- and this takes the duo into nightclubs and beauty parlors, respectively.

Eventually, the trail leads to call girl Su Ling (Got Dik Wa), and Lily Li finds the girl at the hairdresser's after Wong Chung strikes out in search of her in a very Seventies disco.

The real villain of the piece is crime lord Wong Hap and the action, choreographed by Lau Kar-Leung, is much more realistic than that found in other films of this era. Sure, the machismo is there but there's little of the slo-mo deaths of other Chang Cheh features. And the violence seems almost necessary as the film is a story about the clash between the desire for personal vengeance and a need to uphold order through public mechanisms like a police squad.

If Police Force had been 10 minutes shorter, I'd probably be raving about it but it was still a decent film that held my interest for most of the 101-minute running time.

You can order Police Force on DVD here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pull In Emergency - Everything Is The Same - Free MP3!

[August 30, 2010: I've since reviewed the debut album from Pull In Emergency and you can read that review here.]

I have been listening to a lot of Frank Sinatra at work lately -- mid-life crisis? -- and so I hadn't heard the Lauren Laverne show on BBC 6 Music for a few days. Needing something new, I checked out the replay of today's show and heard one truly great song -- the kind of song that sends me instantly to Google.

Yeah, the problem was I thought Lauren said the London band were Fulham Emergency.

Oops. No, the group behind the sublime "Everything Is The Same" was a London band called Pull In Emergency.

Vocals echoing Kate Jackson from The Long Blondes, a rhythm section sounding like the Arctic Monkeys, and a lead guitar line that spirals like something Stephem Malkmus would throw down, London five-piece Pull In Emergency are full of promise.

And here's the kicker: they are all fairly young -- under 18! -- but you would never know that from hearing this track.

There's nothing fey, or twee, or substandard about these guys -- everything sounds fully developed even if the band have yet to drop a debut full-length album.

Lead singer Faith Barker sounds like she's thirty and the guitars from Alice Costelloe and Frankie Bowmaker chop-and-thrash-around like a couple of jazz players trying to match riffs with Johnny Marr. Dylan Williams on bass and Suneet Chohan on drums provide the grounding and drive the song forward while the vocals and lead guitar lines soar.

Pull In Emergency have signed to Mute Records and word has it that they will be dropping a full length album this year -- maybe summer?

In the meantime, you can download a free MP3 of "Everything Is The Same" here.

Also, be sure to follow the band on MySpace:

And they're on Facebook, and there's a link to their blog on the right there in my blog list.

Tragic Commitment with Anita Yuen

A film made during Anita Yuen's peak years, Tragic Commitment (1995) is a somewhat tiresome drama that gives Anita few opportunities to be charming and winsome.

Kozo has an old review here and his disappointment is echoed by me.

Let's be honest here: Anita Yuen is better suited to comedy or romance than this sort of hackneyed nonsense. She plays a gynecologist whose husband (Julian Cheung) dies leaving her to face her mother-in-law (Deannie Yip) who is a bit obsessive about having a grandchild.

If you've ever wanted to see a film where Anita Yuen goes to the toilet and then argues with two old ladies about the pregnancy test results of her pee, then this film is for you. Otherwise, Tragic Commitment is largely a collection of unintentional laughs waiting to happen.

So Anita looks up her dead husband's mistress, Blackie (Josie Ho), and finds the girl pregnant. Blackie and her tacky friend show up at the home of Anita's mother-in-law and then there's a big scene.

Maybe it's because I'm a guy, but none of this seemed very believable to me. Why wasn't Anita more ashamed of her husband's indiscretions? Why was she so beholden to the mother-in-law's wishes even after her husband has died? It's just a contrived bit of business like a Lifetime network TV-movie.

The only possible selling point for this film for a prospective DVD buyer is the fact that Josie Ho looks quite beautiful. Yeah, she's overacting but so is everyone in this flick and the material almost demands it.

You can order Tragic Commitment on DVD here.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Nippon Girls: Japanese Pop, Beat & Bossa Nova 1966-1970

I don't buy CDs very much anymore. I'm an iTunes kind of guy now that I've loaded (and then sold) 700+ CDs in the last few years. But this CD caught my eye when I was looking for another CD on Amazon.

Nippon Girls: Japanese Pop, Beat & Bossa Nova 1966-1970 is a collection of the female singers who were popular in Japan near the start of the "group sounds" era.

Here's a good review -- with pictures -- of the CD from Mojo magazine.

You can get the CD at Amazon here.

Highlights of the CD are as follows:

Mieko Hirota "Nagisa No Tenshi" (1968) -- with an intro echoing "Cool Jerk" by The Capitols, and arrangements sounding like The Fifth Dimension, this song soars and swings on the strength of a very Supremes-like vocal from Mieko Hirota:

Ryoko Moriyama "Ame Agari No Samba" (1968) -- a haunting and beautiful song that sounds like a summer's night on the beach, this could be my favorite track from the entire CD!
No embedding so play here.

Rumi Koyama "Watashi No Inori" (1968) -- a song that reminds me of Lesley Gore for some reason! -- not sure what film this clip is from.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Killers Five with Li Ching

With assured direction from Ching Gong (father of Ching Siu-Tung), 1969's Killers Five is a short (81 minutes) wuxia crowdpleaser.

Yue Zhenbei (Tang Ching) is looking for the brother of Ma Jin Ling (Li Ching) to take on the vicious warlord, Jin Tianlong (Tang Ti).

After Li Ching disguises herself as a warrior -- albeit a cute warrior -- Yue allows the girl to join him on his quest. Soon, they enlist Water Rat Li (Ku Feng) on the boat ride to the stronghold.

(I think that was Lily Li as the girl rowing the boat and arguing with Ku Feng.)

This is one of those forming the band-kind-of-things. By that I mean that the plot about arriving at the villains' fortress is not nearly as important as the bits along the way as more heroes join the main characters' cause. Add to the mix the burly Niu (Cheng Miu) and the young and brash Liang (Wang Kuang Yu).

The goal of rescuing the duke's daughter, and not simply revenge, is the real reason the 5 approach the villains' fortress.

An exciting scene using a real seaside cliff location deserves mention. The sequence, soundtracked by insistent planking piano figures, is largely dialogue-free with Niu climbing up the hill, striking first, and lowering a rope ladder down the cliffside. Never mind that the climb would be the stuff of Olympic athlete prowess for these five warriors as we never see the entire effort on screen.

Soon the heroes are in the compound and wrecking vengeance at night, with Water Rat Qi (Ku Feng) caught up in a gambling match again and the the mysterious Liang on speaking terms with one of the main villains. Li Ching's swordswoman, showing fierce resourcefulness, looks for the duke's daughter and soon falls into a trap.

Carrie Ku Mei plays the duke's daughter whose kidnap is the source of this whole drama but she's not given much screen time.

As for Li Ching: My first thought was that this must have been a Cheng Pei-Pei role and somehow Li Ching got the part instead. But that's just guessing. It doesn't matter as Li Ching does add some unique touches to her heroine. There's a wonderful sequence where she's fighting and her face -- far more expressive in this scene than Cheng Pei-Pei's would have been -- seems girlish, registering shock and concern even as she's fighting a bloody duel. As her sword remains aloft and she is holding off the three swords of her attackers, she looks spent. Then, the baby queen of the Shaw studios uses her other hand to kind of claw her opponents' stomachs. It's a funny little moment that Cheng Pei-Pei, or Lily Ho, couldn't have pulled off in this role.

Watching Li Ching in this in 1969, it seems more ridiculous how little director Chang Cheh did with her in the same year's Have Sword Will Travel.

Check out that clip below and you'll see why I'm a fan. Watch it once for the fun action and then watch it again and study the range of expressions on Li Ching's face. The actress clearly knows what she's doing by contrasting her cute face with the bloody action unfolding around her. Her expression as she leaps to the top of the cabinet, dodging a hail of blades, is magical: it's a look of delight, surprise, shock, and relief -- it's almost as if she is saying to those goons: "You dare to try that with me?"

A film like Killers Five is not trying to reinvent the genre and I think it's easy to see why film scholars latch onto the machismo of Chang Cheh as, clearly, he was altering the genre tropes. Still, I'd argue with anyone that a film like this remains more fun. A cast of regular Shaw stars and a solid plot that delivers the goods for 81 minutes, Killers Five was a lot of fun.

You can order Killers Five on DVD here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Fugitive with Li Ching and Lo Lieh

After an exciting and bloody bank holdup by Lo Lieh and Ku Feng, 1972's The Fugitive gets underway.

Here are some key plot moments from this impressionistic film:

Liao Fei Lung (Lo Lieh) and Ma Tien Piao (Ku Feng) take refuge at a brothel.

There's another shootout and the guys are captured. And beaten. And then they escape.

The Fugitive is so short (76 minutes) that it feels incomplete at times -- like something has been cut maybe?

Anyway, Liao Fei Lung gets out of jail and Ku Feng's Ma Tien Paio now seems to be in charge. At about the halfway mark of the film, Li Ching finally shows up as Ming Ming, a village girl rescued by Lo Lieh's bandit-with-a-heart-of-gold.

I guess I should declare that, since I'm not a fan of John Woo or Sam Peckinpah or Chang Cheh, I was probably not going to enjoy the very 1970s-styled man-on-man violence of The Fugitive and I didn't.

The film has some nice imagery but it largely bored me despite an impressive bodycount and a lot of bang-bang and kick-kick going on.

I didn't enjoy the film but I did appreciate it on an intellectual level. It doesn't waste time on backstory -- things just kick off mid-action; the short running time makes it more palatable and there is a certain kick to be had from watching spaghetti Western tropes translated to Asia.

If you really wanted to get complicated you could say that since The Magnificent Seven (1964) was a remake of Yojimbo (1961) (itself containing elements of earlier Hollywood Westerns), you are watching Western movie elements filtered into Asia in Kurosawa's flick, then back to the West via the Clint Eastwood-starring classic, then filtered back into Asia in a Western-in-all-but-name like The Fugitive.

Look for a lot of Shaw regulars in this, including a dressed-up Ouyang Sha-Fei as Lo Lieh's victim in a bank robbery, and a brief cameo by the late Shek Kin.

You can order The Fugitive on DVD here.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Kenickie - In Your Car (Live Video and MP3)

I stole the video from some guy on YouTube. I should apologize but I've got my reasons.

See, the last time that this gem made it to YouTube, the song got yanked by someone -- copyright holders, I'm guessing?

Anyway, as this blog still doesn't get more than 100 or so page views per day, I'll take my chances.

This is Kenickie doing "In Your Car" at the Scottish festival, T In The Park, in 1997.

This is the last new band I felt enthusiastic about.

This is exactly everything I want out of my Brit pop-stars, done smashingly loud, full of life and happiness and wit.

The three gals -- Lauren Laverne, Marie DuSantiago, and Emmy-Kate Montrose -- seem caught somewhere between riot grrl and The Primitives. But clearly this is a functioning rock band and not another set of fringed janglepoppers out to resuscitate the twee corpse of C-86 (itself a resuscitation of the 1960s). It's not the hard edges of Elastica, nor the Hole-isms of any number of American female-fronted bands of the era (The Muffs, for instance), either.

Somehow, the gals -- and Johnny X on drums -- managed to make a uniquely British -- uniquely Northern English -- kind of pop that teetered on the line between indie and mainstream rock. Morrissey and Marr may have spawned a multitude of miserable copyists all set on hearing just the mope in those Smiths tracks -- talking to you, Martin Rossiter and Gene -- but those two Mancs were really writing pop music for the masses (provided you got Morrissey's references and could groove to Marr's Byrds-ian chords).

Kenickie, similarly, were too good for the indie ghetto of the time -- Yastura anyone? -- and too smart by far for the OK Computer-loving mainstream of 1997 where intelligence somehow ended up equaling the bleeps-and-blops of Radiohead's good-but-overrated album.

"I'm too young to feel so old" sounds almost sad when taken out of context but, sung by a young Lauren Laverne here, it sounds precocious and self-aware.

A tale of being chatted up -- stalked? -- by an older man with a nice car becomes a pop masterpiece with lyrics revealing that the younger girl is far more savvy than her predator.

A string of great singles-and-flipsides, one nearly perfect album, and one sadder 2nd one, and it was all over.

At least they had the good grace to break up before it went to hell.

Marie and Emmy-Kate briefly tried their hands in a band called Rosita before leaving the music business.

Johnny X recorded under a lot of different monikers and now rocks it out in Frankie and The Heartstrings (search this blog for more on that).

Lauren Laverne -- the same witty LL, only a tiny bit older -- gasp! an adult now! -- is a DJ, author, TV host, and all-around delightful media gadfly in the UK (search this blog for more on her).

I write about stuff like this in the hopes of pinning down the pop promise that captivated me in 1997. But, it's 2010.

In 1997, I had been listening to C-86 bands, the Cocteau Twins, and Elastica for a few years each. My mind was in a different place.

The Primitives were great but they were never 100% forward-looking. While they weren't quite as indie insular as their peers in 1988 or so, they retained something retro that was impossible to shake.

Kenickie seemed to be some weird mix of Shirley Bassey and The Shop Assistants.

It's like The Manic Street Preachers; on Generation Terorists (1992), they have clearly been listening to The Clash and Guns and Roses, but, by The Holy Bible (1994) those influences have been bashed into submission in the service of an entirely unique sound.

By the time this song was over on my first listen of At The Club (1997), I somehow felt that I had raved far, far too much about the Wire-ripping-off Elastica.

Download a live 1997 version of "In Your Car" here.

Kenickie "In Your Car", T in The Park, 1997

Friday, June 11, 2010

Cherie Chung Graces Elle Magazine Hong Kong

And I think the word grace(s) is the optimum word that comes to mind.

Is there any other 50-year-old actress who still looks so amazing and perfect and graceful and at-ease in her own skin?

Probably not.

I should admit that I would use any excuse to post about Cherie Chung but I *do* think that that one shot is quite nice -- it echoes a pose Veronica Lake or Gene Tierney may have struck in another era.

Doubles Cause Trouble with Maggie Cheung

Another Wong Jing production, 1989's Doubles Cause Trouble is a Hong Kong spin on such American fare of that era as Outrageous Fortune (1989).

Bad young actress Zhu Yingtai (Maggie Cheung) learns that she's inherited an apartment after her grandmother died. The catch is that she must share it with her cousin Liang Shanbo (Carol "Dodo" Cheng).

The spacious apartment delights the girls as does the presence of handsome Ben (Poon Jan-Wai from 1985's Let's Have A Baby, among a few other titles that I've reviewed recently). It seems Ben is already sharing part of the large apartment but he's not quite the handsome businessman that he appears to the girls.

When a guy dies in the girls' apartment, funnyman Charlie Cho helps the girls dispose of the body.

Then some bad guys think the girls know where a "national treasure" is and the film turns into a manic comedy.

Nat Chan shows up and he and Charlie Cho provide the moments that feel like other Wong Jing films of this era. Not sure if that's a good thing, actually.

I think trying to relate the plot of this thing in a review would be a foolish thing to do as the humour all comes from the plot's unfolding and the twists and turns along the way.

I mean, Outrageous Fortune was a moderately funny comedy for its time and the plot was not as important as the chemistry between the two leads. And here it's the same thing: Dodo Cheng and Maggie Cheung work well together and while the characters are not that detailed, they are different enough to make this thing less of a chore to sit through.

The scenes where the girls communicate using a secret "blinking" code remembered from their childhood are cute, as is the scene where they wreck a play.

And Wilson Lam as a possible undercover thief (or cop) makes a nice foil for the girls.

The director, too, has one of his many cameos from this era here, this time it's almost a funny one.

Not a masterpiece, but a relatively coherent comedy from director Wong Jing. If Doubles Cause Trouble had been a good 10 minutes shorter, it would have been more of a pleasure. But, as with most 1980s Wong Jing comedies, 93 minutes feels like 120 minutes. Still, this is hyper for a purpose and the things that happen here are no more outrageous than those plot points in Outrageous Fortune, or Midnight Run (1988), for that matter.

Judged from that perspective, Doubles Cause Trouble is a pleasant surprise.

You can order Doubles Cause Trouble on DVD here.

"How many Wong Kar-Wai films do I have to do to make up for all the films I've done with you?"

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Diary Of A Lady-Killer with Chin Han

After an opening credits sequence featuring some topless Shaw starlets, Diary of a Lady-Killer (1969) begins.

Following the suicide of a young typist at the East Insurance Company, an informal investigation is begun into the lifestyle of manager Zhou Guoxiong (Chin Han). The guy is an inveterate playboy it seems and girlfriend (?) Xiulan (Fang Ying) may become the guy's latest conquest.

After she won't let him take her to a motel for the night, he sets his sights on Fanny Fan after seeing her in a local bowling alley. For you Fanny Fan fans out there, it's worth noting that the topless shower scenes are a bit of a surprise.

Then it's back to work for Zhou and his coworker Li Donghai (Ng Fung)

Soon, Zhou is practically stalking Margaret Tu-Chuan at a movie theater. The couple go to see a Japanese film and there's a clip of it here. I'm guessing it's something associated with director Koh Nakahira. Unlike his contemporary Umetsugu Inoue, Koh Nakahira did take a Chinese psuedonym -- Yang Shu-Hsi -- when he went to work for the Shaws. Unlike Inoue, he didn't make that many movies for them and returned instead to Japan to continue in the film business.

It's worth noting that, for whatever reason, Margaret Tu-Chuan looks old here. The close-ups don't favour her as she looks like she's wearing a ton of make-up. The actress was still lovely and here she is playing less of a vamp than usual which is a surprise given the somewhat tawdry nature of the plot of this thing.

Seems that nice girl Xiulan is about to go back to Japan to study but Zhou is not letting up on her. After he practically jumped her in the car on the way to that hotel earlier on, it's a bit of a surprise that she's still giving the guy any chances at all.

[Possible Spoilers Begin]

Okay, so Xiulan finds Zhou's diary -- conveniently titled "Diary of a Lady-Killer (!) -- in his room as the bodies pile up. Naturally, the sexual predator is now a suspect.

At the very same moment that he figures out that there are murders going on, he discovers that Xiulan -- or someone else -- has taken his diary and as he is literally hoping the police don't come in, they come in to arrest him and put him on trial.

After a sham trial, the lawyer for Zhou takes on the case of appeal and it's then that the film turns into a series of flashbacks of Zhou's other conquests including Helena Ma and Shirley Wong.

It's not much of a secret when the real killer is revealed. I'm not going to spoil the film further except to say that the list of possible suspects was fairly narrow once Zhou had his little freakout and it was clear that he was not a literal lady-killer.

[Possible Spoilers End]

Diary of a Lady-Killer is a problematic film in that it never decides whether it's an exploitation film or a murder mystery. The bigger problem is that it fails to be a good example of either one of those two genres.

Still, if you want to see a few Shaw starlets in their prime, then this film might work for you.

I just noticed that Brian has a good review of the film here.

Unfortunately, Diary of a Lady-Killer (1969) is out-of-print on DVD and VCD at the moment. If you can find it in a shop -- like I did -- it's probably worth snagging just to see the Shaw Brothers starlets, particularly Fanny Fan.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Rose Elinor Dougall Offers 3 More Free Songs

I'm posting this for my non-Facebook friends/readers who may want these wonderful tracks too.

All you have to do is click the link and sign-up for her mailing list.

The album, Without Why, has now been announced as due out in August -- presumably in the UK but maybe it will be on offer from iTunes here? Who knows?

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Rat Catcher with Tanny Tien Ni

Despite a less than appealing title, 1974's The Rat Catcher is a delightful heist comedy set in early 1970s Hong Kong. Add sexy Tanny Tien Ni to the mix and it seems like a minor classic. The only curious thing is why is this in Mandarin only? I thought after 1972's House of 72 Tenants, that decidedly local fare like this would be in Cantonese?

Maybe that's just a quirk of the IVL/Celestial DVD?

I think the best thing about The Rat Catcher is clearly lead actress Tanny Tien Ni. It's no secret that the actress was a sexy on-screen presence in the 1970s but what is hinted at here is how delightfully mischievous and tempting she could be. I think there's something alluring about her here in a modern setting that I was missing in her period erotic films.

Paang Paang, Pigsy from the Shaw's Journey to The West series, helps out a Western pickpocket victim who's just run into Tanny Tien Ni's disguised and alluring high-class pickpocket. Unfortunately, the cop arrests Ziqing (Liu Lu-Hua from Melody of Love) instead. Yes, the guy is a pickpocket but he's not the real culprit in this case.

The rest of the film deals with high class crook Anna (Tanny Tien Ni) teaching Ziqing the ropes. That's not a slight on the film's admittedly thin plot, or a way to get out of writing about that plot, but, rather, a simple admission that the success of something like this largely depends on the wit and execution of the product. Luckily, the 87-minute Rat Catcher is largely light fare and enjoyable for what it is.

To make things seem more dramatic, the film-makers eventually add a set of real criminals (drug smugglers) into the mix as if to say, "Hey, pickpockets are just regular folk in Hong Kong!"

It's one of those films where criminals help the cops to catch the real bad guys.

Add to that, it's got a lot of great location work in Hong Kong. Even if you just wanted to see Hong Kong of 1974, this film would be worth my recommendation.

There are a few energetic scenes near the Star Ferry pier in Central/Wan Chai and one fight on the roof of the ferry is quite exciting and a good use of a real location that everyone in a 1974 Hong Kong theater would surely recognize.

Look for a load of Shaw actors and actresses in smaller parts, including Ouyang Sha-Fei as Anna's mother.

You can order The Rat Catcher (1974) on DVD here.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Forbidden Past with Ching Li and Ling Yun

1976's The Forbidden Past opens with Lo Wei (Ling Yun) -- using the name of a famous director? -- entering Club Dai-Ichi in Hong Kong and meeting Julie (Ching Li), a bar-girl presumably.

Sailor Lo Wei leaves only to run into Julie on the street outside. The lonely girl quickly tells the man that her son misses his father and that the guy hasn't been home at Christmas-time for five years so far. The two lonely souls connect and soon they are riding a taxi back to Julie's place under the Christmas lights of Hong Kong.

Flashback to a young Julie and her mom (Ouyang Sha-Fei) getting kicked out of the rooming house run by Cheng Miu and Wang Lai for owing two months' rent. It seems that the young Julie was in love with the young son of Wang Lai.

The flashbacks continue and those two young lovers are now played by Ching Li and Ling Yun (playing the same guy as from the opening scene? We don't know yet).

The best review I can provide for The Forbidden Past is a visual one; the film is a retro blast and its success depends largely on how much a viewer values a portrait of young love in 1976 Hong Kong. Personally, I love this sort of thing so I was entertained for the film's meager 76-minute running time despite the fact that the story is hokey and the emotional mood of the thing is wildly sentimental.

Visually, director Chor Yuen puts a lot of effort into framing almost every shot and the film always looks great. This is a mood piece first and any recitation of plot points is only going to sound boring as -- clearly -- the plot is very basic and not of much interest compared to how it's executed.

And a viewer does need to toss out cynicism to buy the fact that Lo Wei can just roll into town looking exactly like Paul Zhou -- since it's Ling Yun in each role -- and Ching Li's character never seems to get too excited that it's an exact double of the man she has been pining for in all of the earlier flashbacks in the film. Even her character's son recognizes the guy as an exact double of his missing father!

The Forbidden Past is like one long music video and I liked the film precisely for that reason. Check out the stills below and you'll see what I mean.

I especially liked the montage when the camera starts inside and pans right as Ching Li rushes to the balcony to hang her laundry. It's the same balcony we have seen in earlier shots with the couple. Now, the woman is alone and doing daily chores and raising her baby. The camera tracks right to the landscape and then there's a cut and we're looking at Ching Li on the balcony as she awaits the mailman and a possible letter from Ling Yun. It's a beautiful sequence and there are dozens of similar, small ones in this film.

You can order The Forbidden Past on DVD here.