Before Chin Han became a popular heartthrob in Taiwanese tearjerkers, he starred in Sex For Sale, a Shaw erotic movie about a young man who does whatever he can to survive in the big city. Stephen Tan reviews.

THE ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW

For many Chinese, Hongkong was seen as an El Dorado - a place where one can make one's fortune. But the migrants who peopled Chang Tseng-chai's Sex For Sale (1974) are a far cry from those who make up Chu Yuan's House Of 72 Tenants (1973). For a start, gone was that community feeling and that sense of looking out for one another. In its place is a much more materialistic and selfish work ethic.

Chin Han is a simple young man from the countryside looking for work in the city. At an employment agency, he is asked by lady boss Tina Chin Fei to strip. Liking what she sees - viewers only get to see Chin Han in his drawers (in the script he's supposed to strip everything) while Chin Fei keeps ogling at Chin Han's crotch - she offers him a job as a swimsuit model opposite Ai Ti.


 

As an ageing former model who now runs her own business, apart from giving Chin Han work, Chin Fei would also like to have the young man as her boy toy - especially to help ease those lonely nights, which he initially does not object. Another person who also has her eyes on the young man is his landlady who is willing to even lower or waive the rent for sexual services rendered.

Thus begins the erotic life of Chin Han in the city. Like Jon Voight's Midnight Cowboy, women easily fall for the good-looking young man and, before long he gets another job looking after invalid Ha Ping, which also means sharing her bed. In between are more dalliance with Chin Fei, model Lou Bing-qing, hooker Helen Ko and the statuesque Ai Ti, plus a detour to a nudie bar. In a way, the film foreshadows Chin Han's rise - after this scintillating outing, he would later find fame as a heartthrob in Taiwanese tearjerkers, many of which also starred Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia. But the road to fame starts off by the selling of one's body.


Ai Ti and Chin Han

And this is where Sex For Sale stands out from among the many Hongkong melodramas. Unlike the other films which have a tendency to be preachy and moralistic, Sex For Sale is practically pragmatism gone haywire. Every character is out to get something for himself or herself and the only currency for barter or trade is the body. Even the apparently kind-hearted Ai Ti. She may have a soft spot for Chin Han and can afford to be generous with him (possibly because she is successful and not to mention also has a sugar daddy on the side), but when push comes to shove, instead of spending time with her true love, Chin Han is left in the cold fending for himself.

While casting the good-looking Chin Han as a gigolo is good commercial sense, the film stumbles when it comes to portraying male homosexuality, which is certainly controversial in the '70s. Written by Yi Da, who plays a gay night club singer who hits on Chin Han, the script makes the wrong move by saying, in a throwaway line, that homosexuality is a form of sickness. While it makes no pretence at being politically correct (the notion didn't even exist at the time of the making of the movie), it would have fleshed out the Yi Da character, who is stereotypically prissy, by teasing out his feelings of lust, desire and love. As it is, the character barely registers and his suicide (a melodramatic and rather pat device) only serves to give the film an ending of sorts.


Tina Chin Fei
 

Interestingly, for a film which obviously exploits an actress's body - all the key actresses - Ai Ti, Tina Chin Fei, Lou Bing-qing and Helen Ko - have nude scenes, narratively, all these characters kind of achieved what they set out to do. As the story unfurls, if the Chin Han character doesn't succeed, it's not because he's kind hearted (a theme that runs through the Crazy Bumpkins series) but because he's not ruthless or selfish enough. In other words, he has no, what Ai Ti calls, "survival skills."

Note: The Sex For Sale DVD is not available in $ingapore.


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