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.


If only director Lui Kei (Lu Chi) was not so uptight and moralistic. Starlets For Sale (1977) feels as if in lieu of the nudity and sex, Lui must put in (not sneak in) some positive message about how women should lead their lives, never mind the fact that this was the first time female pubic hair was shown in a Chinese film, no moot point which helped make Starlets one of the top grossing films of 1977.

Four young men arrive in Hongkong with one thing on their mind - women and sex. But not just any woman off the street - they are looking for celebrities (a riff based on the stars-for-sex scandal that hit Hongkong in the '70s).

The first nude scene appears after about eight minutes - not a bad start - when two girls climb out of a pool, dry up, and then join the others in the gym to talk about the date with the men in the evening. After an introductory scene at the nightclub, veteran Cantonese star Wu Fung shows an interest in actress Ling Doi; and Koa Yuan is "challenged" to woo the seemingly aloof Ai Ti, a singer at the nightclub.

The night doesn't end with the men going off with their prospective dates but each of them do end up in bed with a woman; and there is much more nudity and sex shown here than in your typical Lui Kei movie.

The much-talked about pubic-hair shot occurs about 22 mintues into the film with one of the girls, Qiqi, taking a shower. It's a medium shot but still daring for its time. Of course, it's the movie's money shot.

And while Wu Fung has been shown in sex scenes where he is under the bedsheet, here it's an eye-opener for long-time Cantonese movie fans to see the straight-guy actually having sex. His interest in Ling brings him to visit her home where meets her mother (veteran Shaw actress Ouyang Shafei in a standout role). Ouyang has a witty spiel at the beginning of the movie (the Cantonese dialogue is comparable to some of the top writing in a Michael Hui comedy) and is all for her daughter to socialise with the rich man and is even keen for Ling to spend three nights with Wu as the rich man will help her write-off her large gambling debts. To appease her mother Ling agrees and gets drunk (not to mention stripping down to her undies) when she meets Wu. Being a gentleman (don't ask, it's that kind of a movie), Wu does not take advantage of the sleeping Ling. But when his sex partner drops by, a comedy of mis-identities ensues.

Wu Fung (right) gets it.

While Kao has no sleepless nights thinking of Ai Ti, he tries to impress her with his generosity, which Ai feels is a cliched and wasted effort. However she changes her mind when she discovers that her brother is giving up his scholarship because they have no money. She agrees to a deal with Kao - apparently to be his mistress/girlfriend - for the money but (surprise, surprise) Kao is another honorable person and knowing Ai Ti's circumstances, decides to leave the country.

Meanwhile, actress Helen Poon, who had originally rejected Wu's advances by outrightly demanding her "fees," gets into a squabble with another actress and the fracas is splashed in the tabloids. Chastised by her stepmother (for being poor) and insulted by her stepsister (for being a slut), Poon decides to end it all by jumping to her death. But first, because she is an actress, she has to look good, even in death, and so she applies some lipstick!

The ending is where Lui gets irritating. Some of the actresses visit Poon's grave and as they leave, one of the girls, in a voiceover, talks about how instead of the wanton, short-and-easy way to riches, which is filled with tragedy, they should lead more virtuous lives!

Lui's trademark is heavy-handed melodramatics in a soft-porn mix that seems more shy and decorous than anything that is truly revealing, especially where the female body is concerned. A former Cantonese movie heartthrob, Lui is also no stranger to the erotic genre. From 1973, he has made a name for himself as the king of erotic movies at Shaw Brothers with films such as Sexy Playgirls (1973), Sexy Girls Of Denmark (1973), Adultery Chinese Style (1973), Women Of Desire (1974), Oriental Playgirls (1976) and Girls For Sale (1976). For a while in Starlets For Sale, Lui was trying to break away from the stereotype.

Note: Starlets For Sale is only available on VCD (IVL/Celestial) and is banned in $ingapore.

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October 10 , 2006

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