Rich young men, aspiring actresses and singers, uninterrupted sex plus that special peek into the nether regions - if only the director didn't adopt that holier-than-thou attitude. Stephen Tan reviews.



What would happen if a director gave the Taiwanese tearjerkers a twist of reality, Shaw Brothers style?

That is what John Lo Mar's The Girlie Bar (1976) is about. If you think the "bar" in the title is a drinking joint where people spill their guts and life stories, you've got another thing coming. "The Girlie Bar" is none other than a brothel though some PR person probably thought "The Girlie Bar" might attract more crowds than just a plain "Brothel."

In a flashback at the beginning, viewers are given the hard-luck story about Ye Feng (who excels in comedies but doing a straight role here), who does odd jobs and has a wife who died early leaving him with three daughters. The eldest, Helen Ko, marries a sailor who is lost at sea, leaving her with a young son. The second daughter, Chen Ping, is dumped by a rich man and is now nursing a baby.

The youngest daughter is the cold and aloof Lin Chen-chi. Heavily in debt, Ye has no choice but to force his daughters into prostitution, him being the proprietor and operator of the joint.

Apart from the loansharks, Ye has to contend with bribing the local police and handle difficult customers. Trouble begins when Lin Chen-chi who not only refuses to entertain one of her customers but slaps the gangster as well. To placate the client, Ye whips Lin in front of the man as a form of punishment for insulting the client.

Tony Liu and Chen Ping.

Chen Ping is friendly with the thuggish Tony Liu Jun Guk but keeps her feelings of the relationship to herself. However, on a outing to the beach, she teases Liu by showing him her breasts and, in the film's eye-popping moment, rolls and rolls and rolls along the beach. When that seems to steam up Liu (who is also one of the film's action choreographer), Chen Ping decides to run off, leaving Liu on the vengeance trail.

Helen Ko fancies Dean Shek Tien (before he became "big" in Jackie Chan movies and then forming Cinema City) and has no qualms about going to bed with him. Given the lack of space in the former British colony, before mommy hits the sack, she has her son stay in the cupboard. For his efforts, he gets two biscuits. Before things get carried away, Dean's wife appears and tells Ko to leave the man alone.

That leaves the quiet Lin. After meeting a rich student (who serenades to her in a pre-MTV sequence, which is hilarious for today's audiences), Lin decides to go off with him. But once Ye finds out Lin's plans, he goes and explains his background to the boy. Overhearing the conversation, Lin returns to The Girlie Bar and gets drunk with a client.

Meanwhile, bouncer Jason Pai Piao, who has a crush on Chen Ping, gets killed fending off Liu, who then returns to torch up the joint.


No one who ventured into the cinema in the '70s watching this movie would have mistaken this as a tearjerker or, as the DVD box says, "an allegorical tale that follows the plight of the Chinese woman and the way they are treated by males in Chinese society." With Chen Ping as one of the delights in a brothel, it is even doubtful anyone will wonder what sort of a father would force his daughter to sell herself.

Apart from the fiasco on the beach (and viewers do get an eyeful), and a scene in the outbacks where she has to strip, Chen Ping doesn't get to do much disrobing. On the other hand, it is Helen Ko who gets the nude scenes. And if anyone wonders, no, Lin does not appear in the nude at all. But viewers do get their money's worth in the final fiery scene where the girls, many of whom are either topless or in the nude, run like headless chickens looking for the exit.

Note: The Girlie Bar DVD (IVL/Celestial) is banned in $ingapore.

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October 10 , 2006

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