Li Han-Hsiang's 1974 erotic film, Forbidden Tales Of Two Cities, tries to wow audiences with its bold take on bondage sex. But it is regular sexpots Hu Chin and Chen Ping who save the day. Stephen Tan reviews.


If European and American filmmakers were not hesitant to portray sex in their films in the late '60s, then their Asian counterparts, especially the Japanese, were not slow to get off the mark and Japanese triple-X films (that's how they were advertised locally) were not something out of the ordinary.

But Hongkong's Shaw Brothers, already a major player in the film industry, did not follow suit immediately as they were then milking their sword-fighting (wu xia) cash cow. Things changed with the success of Li Han-Hsiang's The Warlord in 1972. Set in revolutionary China, the comedy about a corrupt warlord made a star out of comedian Michael Hui though the film's brief moments of nudity must have helped to flesh out its popularity. The next couple of years saw director Li, until then known more for his classical works like Love Eterne, enter what is usually seen as his "commercial" period.

After The Warlord, Li followed up with Legends Of Lust (1972), Illicit Desire (1973), Sinful Confession (again with Michael Hui) and Golden Lotus - the latter two released in 1974. Forbidden Tales Of Two Cities was released in 1974 and, compared to the other films, is surprisingly restrained.


Set largely in Macau, with its casinos and gambling houses, the film starts off by showing how Hongkongers spend their leisure hours and lose their fortunes in Macau. Underneath the glitter, the film is also about how much of a gamble love can be. Made up of two separate stories, the movie however feels as if the director had a spare set and a cast that is waiting for the next big project to roll.

The first story features sexpots Hu Chin and Chen Ping. Set at the turn of the century, Hu Chin is married to antiques dealer Ku Feng while Chen Ping is married to Wang Hsia. Being neighbours, the virile-looking Ku Feng (unlike the roles the character actor plays in other films) has his eyes on Chen Ping while Wang Hsia has his on Hu Chin. Before the story gets to show how the men get what they want, it detours into the area of "oral" sex (involving a piece of jade mouthpiece) that probably worked better in the script than on film.

In the second story, Shek Sau is a bookie who takes on a bet that he can woo socialite Tanny Tien Ni in half a month. Part of the fun in such films is watching the guy go through the paces of seducing the woman, with whatever wiles necessary. Shek Sau is a bit on the morose side and doesn't get to do much to court Tanny and when Tanny turns up at his room, the viewer tends to ask, "What, so fast?" And when the couple decides to get an apartment, the two find four shackles hanging from the ceiling in the master bedroom. Here, Shek spins a tale about an old man who gets a new lease of life after meeting a woman into bondage sex.

One might be tempted to say that the "wow" factor in this movie is not the amount of nudity involving Hu Chin or Chen Ping but rather how upfront bondage sex is. At the same time, the film also manages to poke fun at the general perception of bondage sex - the servants hovering at the door of their master's bedroom commenting on what they think is happening inside: "It's just husband and wife having a fight. How come it sounds like they're fighting with robbers?" "They've been at it since last night. At the Old Master's age, how can he possibly take it?"

If viewers are gambling on more visual treats, then the Shek Sau-Tanny segment, which is practically sex-free, is a letdown. Overall, there is just barely enough skin and sex to qualify this as a Shaw erotic film but generally viewers will find they have been short-changed, regardless of the S&M theme. This is a movie which tries to show some kind of link between Hongkong and Macau and, ironically, it is the connection between places, time and people that is lacking. As it is, the film does not resonate and, like the shackles in the bedroom, things are just dangling in mid-air.

Note: The Forbidden Tales Of Two Cities DVD is not available in $ingapore.

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