Instead of rollicking great fun, Li Han-hsiang's Legends Of Lust is a tale of missed chances involving a potter's wheel and a rubber doll. Still there is the cold and sexy Betty Pei Ti for consolation. Stephen Tan reviews.

THE ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW

Legends Of Lust (1972) must have looked attractive on paper - three stories about women who cheat on their husbands and who end up working in a brothel. (Was director/screenwriter Li Han-hsiang making a veiled remark here?)

 
Lin Chi (left) and Wang Hsia.

In the first story, The Cuckold, sex symbol Hsia Wen is married to an old pottery shop owner. Understandably, she has the hots for blacksmith Wang Hsia across the street. While Wang has an attractive wife Lin Chi (who seemingly cannot be sexually satisfied), he still lusts after Hsia. Suspicious of his wife's behaviour, the pottery shop owner sets a trap and catches his wife and her lover in bed; bounds them in a sack and brings them to the yamen (court). But when the sack is opened, it is Wang and Lin Chi inside.

The tradition of Child Groom is highlighted in the second story. Demure Liu Wu Chi, who later has a reputation as a hardcore sex actress, is married off to a boy (Ouyang Te-yao) who might not even have reached puberty. On the night of the wedding, her cousin, who is also her lover, breaks into the bridal chamber, ties up the boy and has sex with the bride.

In The Immoral Spouse, Betty Pei Ti is the wife of pawnshop owner Li Kun but she isn't above having a bit of dalliance with the other male workers. Having caught the attention of Tsung Hua, the worker suggests three wagers to prove her sincerity, one of which involves the two of them having sex in front of the miserly Li Kun. The big name at the time of the movie must have been the "cold" but sexy Betty Pei Ti, who had just come off the successful Intimate Confessions Of A Chinese Courtesan.

Liu Wu Chi (right) in Child Groom.

The film begins promisingly with a naked woman herded down the street on her way to her punishment for committing adultery. Sex and nudity may be sprinkled throughout the show but audiences hardly see anything. The most obvious body on display is Lin Chi, who gets a nice shot of her bare back as she makes her husband Wang give her a massage; and another shot of her as she undresses in front of a crafty lawyer. Again, it is the extras who appear in the nude but they are mostly seen in long shots.

While there is just enough flesh on display to appease the fans, the strain of making the movie must have shown on director Li, who had just returned from Taiwan. In the '50s and '60s, Li had a successful career at Shaw Brothers. But he decided to leave Hongkong and start his own film company in Taiwan. The project failed and Li then returned, hat in hand so to speak, to Shaws.

The film is competently shot and there is a nice Li Han-hsiang literary flourish in a scene where veteran actress Wang Lai teaches the Child Groom the different ways of expressing the word "penis" and generally what to do on the wedding night (who should be on top; and who below). But overall, the stories are let down by their weak resolutions and more and more, Legends Of Lust looks like a movie of missed chances.


Erotic Hsia Wen under wraps.
 

For instance, one quickly thinks of Demi Moore in Ghost when one mentions "potter's wheel" in a movie. Li has used metaphorical shots before to depict the goings-on in his films (like erotic figures to depict a couple having sex) but he totally missed out here. The Cuckold segment is set in a pottery factory; there is unbridled passion; and someone is at the potter's wheel; but it's none of the leads.

In The Immoral Spouse, Li must have thought a gag involving a man pretending to have it on with a rubber doll must be comical. It isn't. Or that a scene involving Hsia Wen and Wang Hsia having sex on one side of the bed and, on the other, there's the old pottery shop owner sleeping away, to be hysterical. Instead, it looks tired and laborious.

Also, one wonders why the virile Wang Hsia isn't satisfied with his wife or why the wife, who has been cheated too in this case, would want to save her wretched husband? And one can only imagine how the women or why they all ended up working in the brothel. Unlike some of the other erotic Shaw films, Legends Of Lust, despite its title, turns out relatively tame. One seems to be dredging the proverbial bottom of the barrel to put this movie on.

Note: The Legends Of Lust DVD is not available in $ingapore.


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