the '70s, it was quite impossible to escape from the deluge of erotic
cinema from both Hongkong and Japan. Curiously though, it wasn't throwaway
cinema. Many of these titles were intellectually provocative, wildly imaginative
and even scholarly. Yet to this day, many of them remained banned in $ingapore,
even after the Shaw Studio revival at international film festivals led
by the DVDs reissued via Celestial Pictures. The Asian sex genre joined
the outburst of erotic cinema coming out of Europe and America. And they
were made by famous filmmakers from Li Han-hsiang to Chu Yuan. Hongkong
was only second to Japan in the erotic film. By PHILIP
CHEAH and STEPHEN TAN.
Li Han-hsiang's Illicit Desire.
The height of Hongkong kung fu films reached its peak in the early
70s and when Bruce Lee died in 1973, it began to wane. It
was during this time that the sex film started ascending. In fact,
1973 was a particularly successful year for the sex genre with numerous
titles such as Adultery Chinese Style, The Queen Bee, The Sugar
Daddies and Facets Of Love.
Li Han-hsiang's Illicit Desire was released at this time. Structured
as an anthology of three stories, the first story dealt with intellectual
desire, the second with sexual desire and the final with material
desire. Li demonstrated his depth of Chinese cultural and historical
knowledge in the first, his talent for kinky sex and voyeurism in
the second, and his love for comedy in the third.
The entry of
comedian Michael Hui in many of Li's erotica, from Sinful Confession
to The Warlord, prefigures how the sex genre gave way to comedy
in the late 70s. More important, the freedom which the sex
genre demonstrated, perhaps symbolically, opened the way for the
Hongkong New Wave, also in the late 70s. One clear example
of this precedent is Kuei Chih-hung's The Killer Snakes (1974).
(see review below)
THE GOLDEN LOTUS [Shaw/Celestial 1974]
Cast: Yeung Kwan, Tanny Tien Ni, Hu Chin
Based on the
most erotic novel in Chinese history, Li's version beats all the
other adaptations with this 1974 classic. The film chronicles the
exploits of Ximen Qing (we already see him in Illicit Desire) and
his seduction of Pan Jinlian (played by the famous seductive actress,
Hu Chin). The Golden Lotus is also an expose on the eroticism, greed
and the contradictory attraction towards power and submission. With
its sensual sets and its myriad of obscure sexual activity of the
Sung Dynasty, the film remains a classic today. This film is currently
banned in $ingapore.
THE KILLER SNAKES [Shaw/Celestial/1974]
Cast: Kam Kwok Leung, Li Lin Lin, Chan Chun, Ko Ti Hua
By all accounts,
it was Willard that started the animals-on-rampage theme. But trust
the Asians to come up with a concoction that is mesmerising, to
say the least. Kam Kwok Leung is a young man who has been ill-treated
all his life. Living in a shack in a squatter area, Kam ekes out
a meagre living doing odd jobs. While he is interested in Li Lin
Lin, who runs a hawker stall, he has an active fantasy life - fantasising
about bondage sex. As a kid, he was beaten after witnessing some
serious S&M in the room next door.
Kam lives next
door to a man who sells snake gall-bladders (as aphrodisiacs) and
one of the film's earliest cruelty-to-animals shot is someone slicing
open the snake, removing the gall bladder and mixing it with wine.
One day, Kam befriends one of these snakes which had been sliced
open and sews up the wound. The "friendship" also results in Kam
meeting lots of snakes "on the run." Feeling horny one night, Kam
visits a prostitute who later gets her gang to beat up Kam. Unbeknownst
to Kam, a snake was in his pocket and it came to his rescue. Realising
that the snakes would do what he wishes, Kam decides to take on
those who had ill-treated him and his loved ones.
Snakes is not widely known in $ingapore or Malaysia - probably because
it was banned or badly cut when it was first screened. It is still
banned in $ingapore. But the gritty, hand-held documentary style
would prefigure the Hong Kong New Wave a few years later. More than
that, the film is a daring mix of bondage sex and animal sex (there
are hints of it anyway) and male fantasising (while Kam was sexually
humiliated by the prostitute at the beginning, he get his way at
the end). And then what are snakes but elongated phallic symbols?
Of course, what are Hongkong movies without the cliches? When Kam
comes, he spills the bottle of milk he's drinking. Though Kam seems
typecast (he played a similar put-upon character in an early TVB
series called Don't Look Now), he is particularly affecting. The
snakes and various reptiles aren't horrifying - maybe because they
are seen as "friends" for a good part of the movie and the film
begs the question, also saliently echoed in last year's Cabin Fever,
who are the good guys and who really are the bad guys?
In the past,
Western audiences into Asian cult cinema only had the video from
Something Weird to get into (reported to be missing a dramatic scene
involving Kam dripping hot wax onto the body of a tied-up prostitute).
By most reports, this Celestial version is almost complete - missing
only scant footage at reel change. While many filmmakers only had
one hit in their lifetime (if they're lucky), director Kuei Chih-hung
had two in 1974 - The Killer Snakes (though at that time, it probably
wasn't thought of as a critical movie); and the more acclaimed The
Bamboo House Of Dolls. But fans of Asian cinema owe it to themselves
to search out The Killer Snakes. Interestingly, veteran Hongkong
actor Wu Fung has a cameo here - blink and he's gone. In Hongkong,
the DVD/VCD is rated IIB.
THE BAMBOO HOUSE OF DOLLS [Shaw/Celestial/1974]
Cast: Lo Lieh, Brite Tove, Wang Hsia, Li Hai-shu, Terry Liu, Roska
Rozen, Niki Wane
this one of the greatest women-in-prison films, and film critic
Ric Meyers calls it "the ultimate chain-gang kung fu caper flick."
But you have to thank the Italians first for their Naziploitation
movies to spearhead the genre (and even a back-handed pat on the
back to Roger Corman). Even the music here is spaghetti-western-esque.
While it is a no-holds-barred women-in-prison film, it's more wholesome
than you'd expect - other than the mandatory sex, you don't get
the feeling that the girls are in any form of danger. Set during
the Japanese Occupation (in Hongkong? China?), a bunch of women
(together with sexy ang-moh Red Cross nurses) are incarcerated at
the 13th Women's Concentration Camp. Of course, it's run by a sadistic
commandant. The women are not only sexually used but humiliated
- a blind prisoner is told to literally lick the boots of the resident
lesbian officer; and the women prisoners are also told to whip (to
death) one of the inmates who tried to escape. And sex is freely
dispensed with - the women are told to service a group of soldiers
who had returned. While nudity cannot be avoided in the movie, the
sex isn't as steamy as one imagines. Only Terry Liu (Lau Wai Yue)
gets to shimmer as the lesbian officer. Fans of Lo Lieh will be
pleased to know that their favourite hero/villain has a sex scene
with Birte Tove (who also stars in Sexy Girls Of Denmark, and considered
at the time Asia's No. 1 Scandinavian sex kitten).
for such a movie (and perhaps the reason fans remember this film
better than the others in the genre), what holds Bamboo House together
is that there is a decent storyline running through. The girls may
find themselves in a tough situation, but they are also needed to
help unravel a case of missing gold. Likewise the involvement of
hero Lo Lieh or the Japanese who are after the gold too. In Hongkong,
the DVD/VCD is rated IIB. This film is currently banned in $ingapore.
Cast: Tanny Tien Ni, Ti Lung, Lily Li, Lo Lieh, Ku Feng, Yueh Hua,
By 1975, Shaw
was cashing in on its kung fu and wu xia (martial arts) films, not
to mention the melodramas. Horror was another avenue and while Hongkong
cinema was still a couple of years away from those hugely popular
gyonshi (hopping vampire) movies, South-east Asian witchcraft
still had an allure that would be exploited in films such as Black
Magic, Revenge Of The Zombies, Evil Black Magic and Centipede Horror.
Shot in Malaysia, especially Kuala Lumpur, Black Magic has postcard
shots of the Malaysian Parliament House and the National Museum.
By today's standards, the film isn't as politically correct as it
could have been. For a start, Shaw stalwart Ku Feng plays the sarong-wearing
evil bomoh whose specialty is casting the death spell. He also has
an equally potent love spell. But then, this film is an eye-opener
of sorts. Ti Lung, who played so many kung fu heroes, doesn't get
to strut his stuff as the engineer who falls victim to his lady
boss, the scheming Tanny Tien Ni. Lo Lieh has his sights on Tanny
but it's a one-way street. To get his dream girl, Lo Lieh seeks
the help of bomoh Ku Feng, who in turn, has his own desires on Tanny.
But that's almost academic next to what happens on screen. For his
charms to work, Ku Feng needs centipedes; the "victim's" hair (with
the roots attached); cut-off finger; foot prints (in the mud); and,
the crème de la crème, breast milk. Ku Feng has a
special potion that can make a non-lactating woman lactate in three
days. Then, there is the unforgettable "rice-pussy." Ku Feng can
be lecherous but he's all serious when it comes to his charms -
notice the seriousness when he gets Tanny to put a lit candle to
the chin of a freshly dug-out corpse so that he can collect the
runny white pus or the way in which he milks the woman at the beginning
of the film. But that's probably what got the VCD censored in $ingapore
- sex scenes and nudity. In Hongkong, the DVD/VCD is rated IIB.
Cast: Michael Hui Koon Man, Hu Chin, Zhu Mu, Wong Hap, Lilly Ho
Li Li, Tsung Hua, Tina Ti
Next to Li
Han-hsiang's epic period movies, The Warlord can be considered a
small-scale affair. But it was successful - both at the box-office
and critically. Seen as a "Chinese Republic" film, it highlights
the corruption that was rampant in the post-Qing period. But it
also made Michael Hui a star as the licentious and opportunistic
warlord. The film is largely anecdotal - it follows the exploits
of the Warlord - from the way he "rules" the local court to his
wooing of a theatre actress to robbing the tomb of the Dowager Empress.
The Videovan VCD, which is available in $ingapore, is censored,
probably because of a sex scene involving Hu Chin whose breasts
can be glimpsed briefly. Unlike the Hongkong DVD or VCD which comes
with both Mandarin and Cantonese dialogues, the Videovan VCD only
has the Mandarin dialogue. At this stage of his career, comedian
Michael Hui probably didn't have the clout to have things his way
- in the Cantonese version, his voice is dubbed by Karl Mak (who
was still an unknown). Michael Hui does have the voice for comedy
(which Lau Ching-wan spoofed to perfection in last year's Fantasia).
In Hongkong, the DVD/VCD is rated IIB.
CONFESSIONS OF A CHINESE COURTESAN [Shaw/Celestial 1974]
Cast: Lily Ho, Pei Ti, Yueh Hua
A detective gets more than he bargains for in an investigation of
a series of murders. As it turns out, all the victims are predominantly
rich hustlers connected with the beautiful and seductive, albeit cryptic
courtesan, Madam Chung, who reigns over her territory and trains (as
well as desires and loves) her protégé Ai Nu, a seemingly
submissive student who secretly harbours a plan to take revenge on
all those who have wronged her. Madam Chungs homoerotic proclivities
inform her choice to hire and train virginal women in the sexual arts.
The roster of male victims grows and the ostentatious atmosphere is
chillingly muted by suspense.
Director Chu Yuan has often been credited for his brilliant forays
into the wu xia (martial arts) genre in Hongkong cinema but he was
able to utilise the genre to great effect, inserting erotic elements
and pushing dramatic boundaries as a result. Intimate Confessions
marries the two (wu xia pien and erotica) with wondrous daring.
The Videovan VCD
is censored. In Hongkong, the DVD/VCD is rated IIB.
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|OTHER SHAW TITLES CENSORED
The Flying Guillotine
The Flying Guillotine 2
The Heroic Ones
Hex After Hex
The Magic Blade
Mighty Peking Man
The Scandalous Warlord
Sex For Sale
Sexy Girls Of Denmark