On the surface, The Sugar Daddies is about rich men and their womanising ways. Dig deeper and one finds women who think nothing of selling their bodies and sex and about a man who negotiates everything for his own gain. Review by Stephen Tan.

THE ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW

Sun Chung's The Sugar Daddies (1973) opens eye-catchingly enough - the credit sequence being shot against a photo montage of nude women. Dashing Tsung Hua might look like a mild-mannered office worker but he has one ambition - to strike it rich. He might not have fast hands - his attempt to pocket his roommate Ricky Hui's money is easily foiled - but he has a quick tongue and is equally quick to swindle his friends and colleagues.

Tsung runs into former girlfriend Eva Lin but the latter, fed up with being poor, spurns his request for sex by demanding hard cash for the act. Tsung soon realises that he can earn some quick bucks by setting himself up as Lin's pimp. His plan is to run a lottery where the winner gets to spend some time with Lin. Tsung's boss, Wang Hsia, who is a womaniser, is interested, not so much in the scheme, but in Lin herself and buys up the remaining lottery tickets. The plan works and, before long, Lin is playing mistress not only to Wang but two of his friends.

At a nightclub, Tsung meets Betty Pei Ti (who shot to fame in the previous year's Intimate Confessions Of A Chinese Courtesan). After a drunken night of sex, Pei, who is in need of money, discovers that Tsung is not rich despite his flashy ways but still finds him attractive enough to go along with his plan. Before long Pei is servicing Wang and the other wealthy men. Of course, all good things must come to an end and Tsung's plans misfire when one of his "clients" mistakes Tsung's fiancee as his pick-up.


 

Unlike Liu Kei, whose erotic/soft-porn Shaw movies are by equal measures tame and melodramatic, Sun Chung's efforts are relatively bold. The opening montage is promising and both Eva Lin and Pei Ti are not averse to disrobing as and when the scene requires. Even Pei Ti's maid has enough nudity to shame any of Liu Kei's films. Again, unlike Liu's movies, there is a certain naughtiness or kinkiness here that adds a bit of sparkle - one of Tsung's clients, Law Hon, puts on psychedelic music, and works himself up with a tooth brush (which has to be seen to be believed) and water spray while his own boss, Wang, has his own perversion involving a red underwear. Still, Sun cannot shy away from some stereotyping - for example, a dripping faucet to show male impotence (a type of visual shorthand favoured by veteran Shaw filmmaker Li Han-hsiang).

In many ways a straight-forward movie whose comedy arises due to mistaken identities and the inability to keep all the balls in the air, so to speak, Tsung Hua's Xiao Hu (Little Tiger) character stands out from among the various heroic figures he has portrayed. Unlike the heroes in the wu xia (swordfighting) movies, Xiao Hu is amoral to the extent that he is a mercenary by virtue of the fact that he cares only for money. While he does not want to lose his fiancee (petite Liu Wu-chi in nothing more than a whining role), Xiao Hu makes no effort to give up his philandering or swindling ways.

As a comment on unbridled materialism, both Eva Lin and Betty Pei Ti shine out in their roles. These are women with nothing left to fall back on, except their bodies which they are willing to sell. As shown, sex is nothing sacred, only something to do in order to get what they want. It does not even offer solace or release - often the girls appear bored and exasperated by what is expected of them. And, as in this movie, the men hardly contribute anything!

Director Sun Chung is better known for his wu xia movies such as The Avenging Eagle (1978), The Deadly Breaking Sword (1979) and The Kung Fu Instructor (1979) than for his erotic films though Big Bad Sis (1976) seems to have better word of mouth than Sexy Killer (1976). As a way to cash in on Betty Pei Ti's popularity, The Sugar Daddies is pleasant enough diversion but what seems more telling is that it acts as a precursor to Games Gamblers Play the following year. Michael Hui's film adopted the gambling motif but it piles on the social commentary. Plus the fact that it's in Cantonese - a dialect with bones, as they say - certainly helps. It's rich comedy but without the sex. In Sun Chung's case, what can go wrong in a Hongkong movie about gambling and sex? Not a thing. After all, it's only pragmatism gone haywire.

Note: The Sugar Daddies DVD (Celestial/IVL) is banned in $ingapore.





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