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.