A belly dancer who is easy and available, promiscuous sex, illicit love affairs, extortion and murder after murder, that's what happens when Raw Passions are let loose in this whodunit. Stephen Tan reviews.

THE ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW

Thanks to James Bond's From Russia With Love (1963), which probably did for belly dancing what Saturday Night Fever did for disco, belly dancing has made several appearances in Shaw movies, one of which is Lo Chen's Raw Passions (1969).

The dance sequence is featured practically in full and, for many viewers at least, the breasts and crotch shots of belly dancer Suzy Meng Li are definitely the money shots in this film. For a movie that is billed as a thriller, there are two bonus but very brief nude shots of Meng Li which makes this an erotic Shaw film of sorts. But that is jumping the gun, which is what the film does. Instead of following in the footsteps of those western or Japanese sex films popular in the '60s, it appears that Lo Chen is more inclined to walk in the shadows of Hitchcock. (Lo was also the director who made the popular 1963 musical, The Shepherd Girl.)

Raw Passions opens soundlessly (which is a nice touch) with panning shots of a secluded house next to a stretch of water. Moving into the house, a murder is taking place with belly dancer Meng Li stabbed to death. Next, it's flashback time where the action (so to speak) moves into a nightclub with married couples Kao Yuan and Ivy Ling Po and Wang Hsia and Li Hsiang-chun watching Meng Li gyrating away. After her act, Meng Li comes to their table and flirts with Kao Yuan, much to the chagrin and suspicions of wife Ling Po. As the story unfolds, Kao originally had a relationship with Meng Li but had broken it off to settle down with Ling Po.


 

It then transpires that Meng Li is having an affair with Wang Hsia and that she is three months pregnant. After a night of sex (hence the nude shots in the film), Meng Li tries to pressure Wang to leave his wife for her. When Wang cannot agree to the divorce, Meng Li tries blackmail and asks for HK$200,000. In the meantime, she meets up with Kao Yuan and tries to blackmail him as well.

Later, at Kao Yuan's birthday party, Meng Li appears to sing a birthday song and shows off a diamond necklace given to her by Wang. While Meng Li attempts to intimidate both men, her actions backfire and she is killed by a masked stranger. Meng Li's brother then appears and demands compensation money from Kao Yuan for his sister's death. Ling Po and Kao Yuan next find themselves blackmailed by the mysterious Ku Feng. But when Ling Po visits Ku Feng, she finds him stabbed to death.

As to motives for the killings - these are tried and tested reasons. Clearly Meng Li was killed because she could disrupt what appears to be happy households. Then there is the loss of face and shame of scandal should the two prominent businessmen be linked to the dancer. And what of the child born out of wedlock should news of Meng Li's pregnancy surface? Naturally, Ku Feng was killed as he knew too much; and was too greedy and wanted to cash in on the action himself.

As a whodunit, Raw Passions is par for the course, especially on a slow day. After all, there is already promiscuous sex, illicit love affairs and blackmail. The main characters are introduced early and, at first, it does look as if any one could have been the killer. But then the filmmakers chickened out. It's as if making then-leading lady Ling Po the killer a grievous crime in itself. That would have to wait till the following year when she made A Cause To Kill.

Note: The Raw Passions DVD is available in $ingapore. It is rated NC16 and has very brief frontal nudity where the nipples can be glimpsed.

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