During 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]
Dir: Li Han-hsiang
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]
Dir: Kuei Chih-hung
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.

The Killer 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]
Dir: Kuei Chih-hung
Cast: Lo Lieh, Brite Tove, Wang Hsia, Li Hai-shu, Terry Liu, Roska Rozen, Niki Wane

Fans consider 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).

Surprisingly 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.

BLACK MAGIC [Shaw/Celestial/1975]
Dir: Ho Meng-hua
Cast: Tanny Tien Ni, Ti Lung, Lily Li, Lo Lieh, Ku Feng, Yueh Hua, Chan Ping

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.

THE WARLORD [Shaw/Celestial/1972]
Dir: Li Han-hsiang
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.

Dir: Chu Yuan
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 Chung’s 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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All Men Are Brothers

Anonymous Heroes

The Flying Guillotine

The Flying Guillotine 2

The Heroic Ones


Hex After Hex

Illicit Desire

Killer Clans

The Magic Blade

Mighty Peking Man

Oily Maniac

The Scandalous Warlord

Sex For Sale

Sexy Girls Of Denmark

Sinful Confession