In Sinful Confession, Michael Hui is up to his usual tricks - casting a lecherous eye and trying to seduce voluptuous women. But it is director Li Han-hsiang who seems to have the last laugh - by revealing the filmmaker as nothing more than a conman. Stephen Tan reviews.

THE ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW

Critics have considered Sinful Confession (1974) as Li Han-hsiang's most indulgent movie, where vulgarity, cynicism and eroticism all vie for attention. What also caught the viewers' fancy is probably the segment where Li appears as himself in the role of a cheat getting a free meal out of bumbling/novice conman Michael Hui, and the witty repartee from Li is a joy to behold.

But as a comedy, Sinful Confession does not really deliver the laughs. But it is still a clever piece of film. Like House Of 72 Tenants, Sinful Confession is mainly situated within a row of buildings that houses brothels, love nests, disco, martial arts training rooms, gambling dens and even a place for catching a blue film or two. Allowing himself a signature moment, the opening segment with Michael Hui (a writer/film critic/DJ and racetrack commentator) looking for some cheap action through his telescope. With the shots skilfully panning from one window to another, they certainly show the assured hand of the director. With hardly a word said, the moving images tell what kind of person the Hui character is, the various people he will interact with and the potential situations he will encounter. Of course, within the voyeuristic motif, it's also a chance to allow viewers that important glimpse of naked female flesh.

Before the viewer can take a breather, in steps one of the tenants, (brother) Ricky Hui, who spies a young woman hanging out a pair of red undies. Quickly, Ricky snatches the undies and, moving behind a door, gives himself a powerful sniff and presumably a handjob. It would have been a different movie had this kinkiness continued. Unfortunately, the opening story (in a loose anthology format) has Michael Hui falling for the charms of an anonymous telephone caller - who is assumed, at first, to be Shaw sexbomb Hu Chin (Hu appears as herself in this segment and as another character called Seventh Aunt for the rest of the movie). A critique of movie critics who are powerful because of the publications they work for and not how knowledgeable they are, one of the film's big laughs must be Hui being gang-raped after pleading ignorance to the fine use of butter in Last Tango In Paris.


 

Michael Hui, in the Shaw movies, does come across as a somewhat sleazy slimeball and this is an area where he shines. In the second story, Hui is a doctor whose patients are mostly the rich and the famous. One day, the vivacious Pai Hsiao-man drops in for a check-up. (For the viewers' benefit), Pai insists on an injection in her buttocks which the doctor readily agrees. At this point, it is not certain who is having more fun - Pai, who seems to groan ecstatically in spite of the pain of the injection, or the doctor. On another occasion, she visits the doctor saying she has breast cancer and insists that the doctor give her a hands-on examination. Finally, she invites the doctor to her home, which also gives viewers a chance to examine Pai's full-bodied assets. Of course, nothing comes free (which is totally in line with director Li's train of thought) and the doctor is blackmailed for his dalliance.

The last story has Michael Hui acting as a boatman whose boat is used by couples and prostitutes who need some space for themselves. One of his customers is Hu Chin (Seventh Aunt) who gets him a job as a general worker in the brothel run by Paul Chang Chung. Coming across as a comedy of manners, the simple Hui is first accosted by a Caucasian woman staying in the brothel (she wants a younger man and Hui fits the bill) but flatly refuses the offer. After discovering an attempt by a rival gang who wants to take over the establishment, Hui gets a promotion but his losses at the racetracks lead to him embezzling the outfit. After a chance encounter with conman Ku Feng, Hui thinks he can pull off a simple con, only to get conned by a master - the film director himself!

Michael Hui made four movies with the renowned Li Han-hsiang at Shaw Brothers, the last being Sinful Confession. Before he ventured into movies, Hui was already a well-known host/comedian on Hongkong television and even if films such as The Warlord (1972) were hugely successful, one can guess at the unhappiness he must have felt being restricted by the dictates of the movies he starred in.

Hui has the kind of deadpan look that works well in comedies. Over the years, he has mastered the kind of look/role that, according to film critic Law Kar, shows Hui being "good at manipulating others and always falling victim to his own designs." But for Hui, the projected image may not be enough. Hui has a fine voice, which has become a hallmark of Hongkong comedy cinema.

While Karl Mark provided the vocals for Hui in The Warlord (a forgiveable crime since the Warlord was a Northerner), subsequent voicings (and especially if they are dubbed in Mandarin) do no justice to Hui's talent. But what Hui has learnt working with Li is probably a chance to hone his comic timing. As an acting vehicle of Hui, Sinful Confession is par for the course. But within the erotic oeuvre of Li Han-hsiang (or even within his entire filmography), Sinful Confession is revealing in his attitude towards film criticism, his command of film language and his playful take on what essentially a film director is - a conman!

Note: The Sinful Confession DVD is not available in $ingapore.

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