Friday, February 26, 2010

Can't Stop the Bollywood Horror!

One more Bollywood horror film in the bag. Thanks to the Hot Spot website for pointing me in the direction of a few of these films that I had never heard of.

But first here is a song that you can listen to while you read my fascinating, life changing and insightful review! This has zippo to do with film or with Asia. I just came across it the other day and the chorus has been rattling around in my head ever since "Bye Bye Mr. Thompson". I figure this could be like a Japanese horror movie and if someone else listens to it the curse will move from me to you. The group is called the Biquinis.

Red Rose

Director: Bharathi Rajaa
Music: RD Burman
Year: 1980
Duration: 137 minutes

Produced in the same year as Phir Wahi Raat (reviewed a few days ago) in 1980, Red Rose also has among its cast Rajesh Khanna, Iruna Arani and very likely that same psychotic black cat. In Phir Wahi Raat this cat had revenge on its fur ball brain and went for the jugular, but the last we saw of the cat, it was being swung around by its tail being readied for space travel. So it is with relief that it shows up again in this film as crazy as ever and still going for the throat and with a taste for blood. Red Rose is an odd grimy subversive film that breaks many of the then conventions of Bollywood – unfaithful wives, unfilial daughters, wanton middle class women willing to have sex for advancement or money, a disdain for religion and a main protagonist who is a serial killer.

What makes it all the more surprising is that this protagonist is portrayed by none other than Rajesh Khanna, once the romantic idol of millions. Termed by most sources as the first Superstar of Indian cinema, he first hit it big with Aradhana in 1969 and went on to a number of successive blockbusters with his smooth velvet appeal numbing the hearts of Indian women everywhere. But time caught up with him quicker than most like a cruel host running out of seconds for supper. India was going through political and social ferment in the 1970’s and this soon was reflected in the films and the rising star of the “angry young man”, Amitabh Bachchan who pushed Rajesh to the sideline - and then in the mid-70’s audiences began preferring the more natural romanticism of Shashi and Rishi Kapoor. His off-screen life was in tatters as well – his well-publicized marriage to the very young Dimple Kapadia had fallen apart, he had gained a reputation for being difficult on the set and heavy drinking and age had taken some toll on his once boyish looks. He was at a career crossroad and so he very admirably was willing to take a chance on playing a blank psychotic killer in this film and allowed the director to often film him in the most unflattering manner possible – up close with his pores looking like giant potholes in New York City, distorted at times, always looking like he needed a shower and over all creepy like a subway molester. Admirable because Heroes very rarely played negative roles in those days in Bollywood though it has become much more common of late. This shattered every Rajesh archetype there was. And he is good at being a tightly wound creep – just the small things he does like smugly opening and snapping shut his cigarette case to some Tchaikovsky tune, the way a cigarette hangs languorously out of his dead mouth, the void in his eyes, the way he spits out the word “beautiful” – he is devoid of nearly every human emotion except anger and . . . perhaps love.

On the surface Anand (Rajesh) might seem like a good member of society – owning an export company, maintaining a beautiful plush red themed home, giving to charity, growing red roses in his garden, a faithful servant (Om Shivpuri) – but his life really revolves around the hunting of women – tracking them, seducing them, bedding them and then killing them all documented by a hidden camera. The director shies away from showing any of the murders in any graphic sense – a strange choice but perhaps that was going too far 30-years ago. Late in the film a fair amount of background is related to show where his hatred of women comes from and why he wants to kill and kill again. This is of course good for the rose garden. He eyes up as his next target Sharva (Poonam Dhillon), an innocent girl right out of the village whose “creep radar” hasn’t developed yet in the big city. She works at a fabric store behind the handkerchief counter and he begins to court her by buying one handkerchief each day and drooling over her like a baked glazed ham. But Sharva is different from the other girls who he easily led into bed – a good girl and a virgin – and virgins can’t be killed in these kind of films can they? Sure virgins are good fodder for sacrifice or for the regeneration of youth by sucking their life force out, but the "virgins don't die" cliché still takes place today in films like the recent Hollywood Taken – good girl lives, tramp dies. So the only way he can seduce Sharva is by marrying her but underlying this is the possibility that he has actually fallen in love with her but it is too late for happy endings. Their wedding night turns into one pulsating murderous evening where seduction becomes the last thing on anyone’s mind. One tip for you newly weds out there, once you discover your husband is a psycho killer, don’t stop to pack a suitcase – just get the hell out.

This could have been a pretty terrific film, but like most of these Bollywood horror films I have seen it is just too long and there is an easy 30 minutes here that could have been whacked off with no loss. And not that I am a gore hound by any means, but the audience needed to see some of his killings and the tension around that. There are only two song interludes sung by Asha and Kishore but they were truly not needed and felt pointless – both projected from the imagination of Sharva, first when she falls in love and then when she waits patiently at home on their wedding night not yet aware that her husband is as he says “planning games for tonight”. But I love the gritty grotty manner this film was shot – using montages to disorient, oozing close-ups to upset, discos that are dives, streets that are dark and empty – there is a just a smidgeon of Taxi Driver and Cruising (1980) that permeates the style of the film like a sweaty night. Red Rose was a remake of the director's Tamil 1978 film, Sigappu Rojakkal, starring Kamal Hassan and Sridevi. The Tamil version was quite successful but not so the Hindi remake.

My rating for this film: 6.0

Here is one of the two songs.

A few posts ago I mentioned that there were some Russian Sherlock Holmes TV films made in the early 1980’s and I was tempted to buy them. I didn’t but much to my happiness I found them at my local library and watched two of them during yesterday’s snow storm. I have to say that I am glad I didn’t buy them really – 6 DVDs for $80 – because though I suppose they are interesting for the fact that they are Russian productions (in Russian obviously), these two at least treaded some all too familiar ground – The Hound of the Baskervilles and the meeting up of Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty at the falls. There really wasn’t anything new added to these stories and they do drag a fair amount. It would have been a lot more interesting if they had taken these two beloved characters and transposed them to the 1890’s of Mother Russia and come up with new stories involving the Czar, the socialists, Rasputin and so on. That period is the setting for the fascinating detective novels written by Boris Akunin, a Russian author, who has two very different detectives in his writing stable – Erast Fandorin who is sort of a Sherlock Holmes type with a bit more taste for adventure and intrigue and then set out in the far reaches of Russia is Sister Pelagia, a nun who likes to stick her nose into conspiracies and murder. As his books slowly get translated into English I just gobble them up. It is important though to read these in the order of release because they build on previous books.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sridevi and the Snake Dances

While I decide which Bollywood horror film to watch next, I thought I'd put up a quickie post because I am being paid by quantity, not quality - sort of like Toyota.

Here are two pictures of Sridevi from the coffee table book, Bollywood - Popular Indian Cinema. It has loads of great photos inside and is a great fallback for me when I have nothing else to put up here. Sridevi was enormously popular in the 1980's but one has to wonder whether she would have a chance in today's lean mean Bollywood with thighs that would be at home on the offensive line of the New York Giants. She really didn't have the classical looks, but she sure had energy and personality and that won her hordes of fans and great affection. She could do straight romance, but was always best as kind of kooky and lovable. Like in Mr. India where she goes undercover in this scene to steal a secret. Beware of Indians in blackface and note the villainous white fellow - he is Bob Christo, one of the very very few Caucasians to actually have a career in Bollywood, always playing a mean spirited rotter of course. But the most astonishing thing about Mr. India is that the director, Skekhar Kapur, was to later go on and make two Queen Elizabeth films starring Cate Blanchett. I may be mistaken but I don't recall there being anyone in blackface in those films.

The creepiest film she made, though totally unintentionally, had to be Lamhe, where Anil Kapoor (who also was her co-star in Mr. India) falls in love with her as her much older guardian because she is the spitting image of her mother who he loved but never won and is now dead. It is considered a great romance but made me queasy as hell. Yup, he wins her love in the end. Even creepier than Nagina, where Sridevi plays a snake woman, you might ask? Actually, I'd love coming home after a hard day's work and having my wife do the snake dance for me. And then asking "What's for dinner honey?". The baddie blowing the big pipe with the crazy eyes is Amrish Puri, the psycho priest in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Of course, Indiana hated snakes so I am not sure how he would take to Sridevi's dance. Weird how she gets smacked at the end of both songs.

For some unexplainable reason, I have not seen the film pictured below - Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja and my DVD is sitting in Bangkok taking in the warm weather while we are expecting more snow tomorrow. Get the shovel out. Maybe I'll have to watch a Carmen Miranda movie instead.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Some Hong Kong Posters

I am finally getting back to putting up those posters from the HK Film Archive Calendar - on sale still - I realized on my last trip that this calendar is good forever because there are no days of the week on it - just the date and the month. So buy one next time you are in town and impress all your friends and neighbors. Here are ten posters taking them up to 1969.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Horror Continues - SSSSHHH

Here is another in a series of Bollywood horror films that I plan to post on. This is a more recent production than the last one – Sssshhh from 2003. I have no idea what the film title has to do with the film but Sssshhh is the kind of sound I make after a third beer. I am not a great drinker needless to say. After one beer I am feeling fine, by the second beer I am getting sleepy and on the third beer I want to discuss politics. That is always a sign that it is time to stop.

But before that, I need another happy Shammi moment. This one from the classic An Evening in Paris, where he woos the wonderful Sharmila Tagore on a helicopter, a boat, skis and on land as only Shammi can. Why didn’t I learn to romance a girl like this? Of course, in this country it’s called stalking.

Director: Pavan Kaul
Year: 2003
Duration: 166 minutes

Malini (Simone Singh) is having a bad hair day on the squash court. First her back hand is out of sorts, then a ball she slams like a 45 slug just misses sideswiping her face on the rebound and next her buddy Sunny falls dead against the glass door covered in blood. As if that isn’t enough, an ethereal voice out of the darkness tells her she is next on the cutting board of life. And so she is, as a person hiding behind a laughing clown’s mask catches her in the deserted building and slices and dices her like a raw onion. It is a very effective beginning to this rarity – a Bollywood slasher film. In fact, a musical slasher film. Just what the world needed. Not a campy one, mind you but a straight up slash and gore film with musical numbers. I had my doubts about the camp aspect when the film jumps right from Malini’s corpse to a musical interlude/credit sequence in which all the background dancers were carrying blades on them – but no this is actually a fairly decent if waaaaay too long slash and splash film (kind of like if Annette, Frankie and friends were being gutted).

Back in 2003 Bollywood was hitting the skids and there were a number of attempts to give audiences something different and so a few films like this came out. The films are clearly greatly influenced by that I Saw You Last Summer type of film – young good looking actors who nearly all come to bad ends and one of them is doing it. That is certainly the case here – a group of new actors with the exception of Dino Morea who had been around a few years trying to make it as a Hero in “A” films but never quite getting there. He is handsome enough I expect but there is just something intangible missing – you can’t warm to this fellow – he is the kind of person I would not trust to hold my bag lunch while I ran an errand. But the big news in the casting was Tanisha in her film debut. Tanisha probably figures she can go by one name because it didn’t hurt her sister too much – that being Kajol. It was her first film so it is unfair to judge her acting skills and I haven’t seen her in anything since so I won’t – but my guess is that if she was say Tanisha Smith instead of Tanisha Mukerjee she would not have gotten within a mile of the studio. Nothing wrong with using connections though and she is cute, well built and from certain angles she has a definite resemblance to the great Kajol.

It is six months later and Malini’s sister Mahek (Tanisha) is still in a state of shock and cries every time she sees a squash racquet. She lives with her mother and goes to nearby Simon College where she has a small clique of close friends. Let me introduce them to you since we will be seeing a lot of them in the next 160 minutes. There is Rocky (Dino) who is the group tough guy – giving lip to the cops but clearly smitten by Mahek. His nerdy buddy Rajat (Gaurav Kapoor) – these kind of films always have one – gives him love advice but seems to take none himself. Mahek’s best friend is Gehna (Suvarna Jha), a tough talking no nonsense girl who may have a thing for Rocky or maybe for Mahek – hard to tell. Then there is Nikhil (Kushal Punjab) and his girlfriend Rhea (Tina Choudhary) who seem like love birds, almost too much so. Finally, there is the new kid in class, Suraj (Karan Nath), a quiet guy who is immediately attracted to Mahek as well. One of these nice people is very likely a psychotic killer. But which one? The film keeps you guessing till the very end as they decide to play Ten Little Indians and begin to die one after the other. At one point or another I suspected everyone – even Mahek’s mother, the cops, the neighborhood dog or maybe even Kajol out to stop her baby sister before she replaced her. So at some point I was right!

Coming in at nearly 3 hours is just too long for a suspense film – the viewer can easily weary long before the end of Mahek continuously escaping this killer who is out to get her in his crazy clown mask. But the individual set pieces (i.e. murders) all work fine and the actors are all charming and attractive and the locations are stunning. I am not sure where the first half takes place – somewhere up in the hills of India but good Lord it is gorgeous. I’d love to visit. And never leave. Then at the halfway mark the group decides to take a holiday from death and go to Thailand! So there are some nice shots in Bangkok and then off to one of Thailand’s magnificent Koh’s – islands – where you feel like you could spend a month just looking at the beautiful clear water and the stunning rock formations. I think it was Phi Phi Island where other films have been shot – the Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun, being one. Sadly, our little group thought they were stuck on a deserted island where they could get no help. I kept wanting to shout out – just walk a mile in any direction and you are sure to run into hordes of sun baked red Europeans drinking beer in the bars.

The music comes from Anu Malik, one of the current day’s most prolific composers, and it is fine if nothing I need to hear again. The songs are placed well though so as not to interrupt the build up too much – my favorite being when they get to Thailand and see a sign advertising Punjabi Night at the local disco! I know that’s where I always am on Friday nights in Thailand!

Punjabi Night. Don’t miss it if you visit Thailand. Sorry - crummy quality.

My rating for this film: 6.5

There are three other films I just wanted to mention. One is another Euro Spy film but the other two are from those budget public domain DVDs. Those $5 DVDs are really nice treats – some truly obscure films that on occasion are good finds. Just take a look at the cover of Liane, Jungle Goddess and tell me if there is one guy out there who would not plunk down $5 to see what was inside! Made back in 1956 by a German production company and shot in both Africa and Germany, it stars Marion Michaels as a white girl discovered in the jungle by a safari headed by a young Hardy Kruger (who was later to star in some major Hollywood films such as Hatari, Flight of the Phoenix and A Bridge Too Far). Like good white Christian people, they can’t have a white girl living among the savages though she seems to be having the time of her life swinging on vines, climbing trees like a cat and having a baby tiger as a pet. So they take her back to Hamburg where they find out she is the heir to a fortune. Neat how that works out. But Marion Michaels is Nymphet squared – totally cute – a little Bardot in her pouty face and Wikipedia claims that she was only the second German actress to appear nude in a film. Though barely visible, she clearly is here beneath her long blonde hair, but what is even more peculiar for a 1956 film is that it opens with a tribal dance routine with all the female natives topless. It always amazed me how nothing risqué could be shown on TV back when I was growing up unless the subject was black and from Africa and then showing nudity was fine because they didn’t really count as people. Here in fact is a lobby card showing such. Any way the film is totally harmless and also co-stars cult icon Reggie Nalder as the villain. Marion was apparently jailbait at the time of the filming – 16 years old – but I had no idea so please don’t set the police on me. The most curious thing about her life though is that she defected to East Germany – not too common an occurrence I imagine. There were two sequels to this film and in 1996 there was also a TV film biography made about her life. She died in 2007.

The other bargain basement DVD was Shadows Over Shanghai. I buy anything with Shanghai in the title. It was made in 1938 and was for its time interestingly very anti-Japanese invasion of China. A few Americans are caught up in the Japanese occupation of Shanghai with lots of stock footage of the bombing of the city (or some city). They are looking for a way out with both the Japanese and a Russian agent trying to stop them from delivering the McGuffin to Chinatown in the USA. The only actor that I have heard of in the film is James Nolan who won a Supporting Actor award in the 1945 A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Ok - but not really recommended.

Before I get to the Euro Spy film, here is a Blog dedicated to spy movies and books. I like the looks of it and it mentions that the lovely Maggie Q is going to star in a TV La Femme Nikita series. I don’t know exactly why but that gets me a little bit excited. Good old Maggie Q.

A few posts back I made mention of the Euro spy series with Ken Clark starring as Agent 077. There is a third in the series and I watched it today – Special Mission Lady Chaplin (1966) – and I’d say it is the best in the series – action from the get go when a nun brings back the clean laundry to two monks and whips out a machine gun and shoots them down – and Clark is much less smarmy than in the other two films. But best of all, the femme fatale is played by the willowy blonde Daniela Bianchi, not seen by me since the fade out in From Russian with Love. I am intrigued by some of the other titles in her filmography – The Tiger Likes Fresh Blood, Operation Gold, Requiem for a Secret Agent, Your Turn to Die, Dirty Heroes and Operation Double 007. She was the runner up to Miss World in 1960 but I don’t know if choosing these parts was a great career path. Anyway, as Lady Chaplin she is the number one killer for a wealthy industrialist with power ambitions and an arsenal of nuke missiles. She is very good and very ruthless at her job, but then she has never had to deal with the masculine charms of 077! Stopovers are in London, Madrid, New York and Paris.

All of the 077 films had those slightly overblown early Bond-like theme songs – this is the one from Special Mission Lady Chaplin, sung by Italian pop star Bobby Solo.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Another Hong Kong Soundtrack Sampling - Viva Erotica

It has been a while since I put up a soundtrack so here is one from the Leslie Cheung/Hsu Chi/Karen Mok film Viva Erotica produced in 1996. That was when I saw it as well and so honestly I recall very little of the music except the rousing surf guitar piece that I think opened the film. The soundtrack CD has a mysterious 24 selections on it which confuses me a lot since the film could not have had that much music - so I think there may be music on the CD that is not in the film but I think the ones I have included were. I thought it was a clever film and a nice step upward for Hsu Chi to appear in an edgy somewhat arty film about a serious director being forced to make a Cat III film for money. Hsu Chi's Mango character is wonderfully vulnerable, ditzy and desirable. Here are six selections from the soundtrack. I'll keep it up here for a week or so and then move it to that other Blog where all the music is being stored by a friend.

The music has been moved here.

Wow - a new Hong Kong review site! I didn't think anyone was crazy enough to do that any more. It's like buying stock in suspenders. It looks like Bullets over Chinatown has been around for a few months but I am as always late to the party. Welcome. Any one who has the nerve to review The Mystery of the Big Boobs is alright by me!

I have continued my gentle tiptoeing through Euro genre films from the 1970's - this time into Italian crime films. Two US distributors - Blue Underground and No Shame - have picked up a number of these films and put out very fine DVD's and at least in my slim pickings so far, made good choices of films. The 1970's was a chaotic time in Italy where crime was an enormous problem - the USA was going through something similar - and this led to a lot of cops and robbers films about society trying to fight back - we had our Dirty Harry, Italy had their share of tough cinematic cops stomping on criminals as well. The production values of the films are topnotch - these are not cheapy knockoffs - with great stunts, loads of realistic shoot outs, frenetic chases on foot, car, motorcycle, helicoptor and even planes, funky music, fascinating location shooting and needless to say some beautiful actresses. Not knowing anything really, I have been very pleasantly surprised at how good these films are.

Heroin Busters (1977), directed by Enzo Castellari - is fairly conventional in plot terms as the police try to bust a heroin ring but it is well executed. David Hemmings (11 years after his classic Blowup) works for Interpol and is attempting to plant one of his men (Fabio Testi, an action star in Italy) undercover in the gang. Fast moving with a terrific ending that is a giant set piece as Fabio is chased by the gang all over town, in the Metro, in a historical site and on motorcycle. Excellent film. And it begins in Hong Kong! English soundtrack only.

The Trailer:

Gambling City (1975), directed by Sergio Martino - is a different kind of crime film, one without cops - just criminals of different shades. Luca (Luc Merenda) strolls into a posh illegal gambling casino in Milan and wins a bucket full of money with some slight of hand. The big boss of the casino notices this but instead of beating Luca up invites him to become one of his in-house gamblers - 10% to Luca, the rest to the house. Only one rule - don't lose. Luca doesn't lose at cards, but instead loses his head by seducing the boss's son's girlfriend (the astonishingly green-eyed and beautiful Dayle Haddon). This leads to all sorts of twists and a grand finale of a chase along the highway with the Mediterranean below. Again excellent. English and Italian soundtrack.

The Trailer:

Colt 38 Special Squad (1976), directed by Massimo Dallamano - is a suspenseful and frantic film with the cops looking for bombers. Inspector Vanni (Marcel Bozzuffi, another stalwart in these kinds of films) becomes obsessed with tracking down a crime lord after he kills Vanni's wife in return for Vanni killing his brother. Vanni forms a special squad of tough guys who are allowed to use the Colt 38 and they are put to the test when the crime lord begins blowing up the city and promises to continue till he is paid off. Not a fat minute thrown in - the film is all business with hair breath chases and shoot outs. Oh, and Grace Jones pops in to sing a song at a nightclub! English and Italian soundtrack.

The Trailer:

Street Law (1974), directed by Enzo Castellari - has a great reputation on the Internet from what I read but was actually my least favorite of these and brought on some impatience on my part. But I admit it was shallow of me - I was looking for a Death Wish knockoff (as the DVD hints at) but actually got a more layered and realistic story. It begins with a bang - a lot of bangs - as we witness Italy falling into a crime state with robberies and murders becoming a daily diet. Carlo (Franco Nero, an action icon in both crime films and westerns) is taken hostage during a bank robbery and afterwards swears revenge. He sets out to get it by tracking the robbers down even though his girlfriend (Barbara Bach in a pretty bland role) begs him not to. But every time Carlo comes face to face with violence he shies off - at times actually cowering - realistic probably but not what I was looking for in an action revenge film. English soundtrack only.

The Trailer:

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bollywood Horror on the Loose

I guess it is time to actually watch a few Bollywood films and not just put up pictures of their actresses! I almost always enjoy a Bollywood film once I actually start to view it, but I often find it hard to motivate myself to do so. I think it’s simply the length that puts me off. I can watch one Bollywood DVD or two from practically anywhere else – or as of late five episodes of Peter Gunn. But as I mentioned, once begun I usually am glad I did so. That was certainly the case with this film that I must have bought strictly by the cover because I don’t recall reading about it anywhere and it doesn’t really have any of my favorite actors. It is an old fashioned horror film from 1980. For the most part mainstream Bollywood has stayed clear of horror films with a few exceptions - though recently the industry has begun to broaden its genre taste to include a little sci-fi and a few horror films.

In particular, Ram Gopal Varma has tried a few times to give the horror genre a kick start but without a lot of success. This isn’t to say that horror films don’t exist in India – they do but they come from niche players like the Ramsey Brothers who have been producing low budget scares for a few decades. Some of their films have been packaged and distributed by Mondo Macabre, but that sort of thing isn’t really up my alley. But after enjoying Phir Wahi Raat, I looked through my collection and came across a couple other films that fall ever so gently into the horror bucket and I expect to watch them over the next week or two.

But before the horror, a little happiness. A few years back I reviewed a Shammi Kapoor film titled Jaanwar that was light and fluffy just the way I like my Shammi films. There was one dance number in particular that I loved for its obvious Beatle influence, for the way it continues to rev up the speed and the rapid head shaking, for the way a 34 year old Shammi plays a college student dancing like a fool and for the way Rajshree tries to shimmy in that tight gold lamé dress. I came across it on Youtube the other night and as always it brought a big fat smile to my face.

As did these two Bollywood photo sites.

Indian Vintage Actress Photos

3rd Floor Bollywood Album Covers

Phir Wahi Raat
Director: Danny Denzongpa
Year: 1980
Duration: 145 minutes

Danny Denzongpa, who was one of Bollywood’s best known acting villains, tries his hand at directing for the first (and I believe last) time and perhaps to be in tune with his creepy screen image, he creates a spooky tale of madness, murder and mystery. The few mainstream horror films that came out of Bollywood in this period are by comparison to horror films from other countries very low key conservative affairs, as is this one. There is no splattering of blood or ravaging of female flesh – just atmospherics, a lot of fog and an eerie suspenseful soundtrack from R.D. Burman – but it works reasonably well. Think more Rebecca than Freddie Kruger.

Perhaps one reason that horror has made such a small impact in Bollywood is that taking a break from the narrative for a musical number is not only incongruous but also a death blow to the mood that has been built up, but here that isn’t really too much of an issue as most of the songs come early in the film and one is used very effectively to produce mood. What the film unfortunately is unable to withstand though is another Bollywood convention – the dreaded comic relief. The first half of the film is pure story – a slow build to possible insanity or mischief – and much of the second is an o.k. reveal – but for some reason Denzongpa decides to throw in an over acting comedian named Jagdeep who on his own comes within an inch of destroying the film and certainly hands it a deep wound. Watching this guy with his bug eyes and frenzied gesticulations for an extended period of time could make a blood vessel burst. What on earth was Denzongpa thinking? Was cheap comic relief such a convention that to ignore it was considered box office poison? The one positive thing I can say about modern Bollywood films is that to a large degree these comic relief actors (and there were a lot of them) seem to have faded from sight.

Asha (who goes only by the name of Kim and who gained some cult fame two years after this in a film called Disco Dancer!) is having bad dreams at night. Scream inducing dreams. In them she is locked in a room in the cellar and her crazy aunt is trying to strangle her. Night after night. Not all that surprising in that as a little girl Asha witnessed this aunt murdering her mother and has never gotten over it. The aunt died in an insane asylum, but she is alive and well in Asha’s dreams. Her nightly screaming is getting on the nerves of her classmates at college and so along with her friend Shobha (even with pigtails, a 28-year old Aruna Irani looks a bit too mature to play a student) go visit the neighborhood psychiatrist, Dr. Vijay (a slightly plumpish Rajeesh Khanna past his idol popularity stage). As soon as the door closes, Doctor and patient run into each other’s arms and I fully expected them to burst into song. They didn’t. I could have used a song but instead Dr. Vijay uses the latest psycho babble technology to delve into Asha’s troubled mind by placing an electronic device around her head that soothes and hypnotizes her. He says “Tell me every single detail of your childhood” and I thought to myself – this could be a very long movie – but fortunately she skips right to the good part - the murder in the family mansion on a dark and stormy night years ago. None of this really seems to help Asha much but he also gives her a nice hug.

The college soon boot both Asha and Shobha out of school for breaking the rules and so where does the good Dr. Vijay suggest they go – of course – to her family home in the middle of no where and where the wind blows like a banshee, the curtains kick up a storm, the chandelier shakes, rattles and rolls, wolves howl and the caretaker and his hot daughter, Gauri, talk of ghosts and look highly suspect. What good therapy! The horror follows her – or maybe it was just waiting – but lamenting songs play across the wind, broken windows shatter her nerves and a hideously scarred woman walks the hallway at night. No one says it out loud but everyone is wondering - is Asha going crazy like her aunt. Then Jadeep comes crawling out of a dingy comic hole and you want to shoot him – but the film is saved near the end by a crazy over the top ridiculous action scene and a guy wildly swinging a revengeful black cat by the tail. Two thirds of a good movie. The six songs by Burman are serviceable but not all that memorable – one has a nice Spanish trumpet introducing it – but what Burman does really effectively here is the background music – constantly changing and mood inducing. The playback singers are the usual Burman crew of Asha, Lata, Kishore and Mohd. Rafi – the best in the business.

My rating for this film: 6.5

Here are two of the songs on Youtube. Nothing to get overly excited about, but why not. In the first Rajeesh shows us some safe driving tips and in the second there is some truly bad and weird camera work going on.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Return of the Perils of Pauline

I have been spending so much time looking at naked women in order to see these Pauline Chan DVDs that I feel like I need to confess my sins. Is there a Blog confessional that I can visit? Pauline’s breasts by now are basically imprinted on my soft and mushy brain. But as I said to YTSL, some one has to do the dirty work and it may as well be me. At my age how much damage can it really do? I am confident my neck twitch will go away soon though I am not so sure about the stammer I have acquired. And I think I probably had this heart murmur already. Though the Cat III films of the early 1990's are not mentioned in polite company any more, in their squalid way they too are a part of the legacy that was once the most exciting film industry in the world. They should not be forgotten.  Anyway, if you dare - three more from Pauline Chan.

Erotic Ghost Story III
Director: Ivan Lai
Year: 1992

As in her life, Pauline Chan had so few happy endings in her films. If she played a prostitute as she did so many times, she usually came to a bad end. If she played a villain or a witch she always got her just desserts. If she played an avenging sister, she still came up short. Maybe she had her fate written on her face. It was a sensuous yet slightly libidinous and scornful face that would always end up on the wrong side of the tracks. It was the kind of face that men might lust after, but rarely love. So it was nice for once to see Pauline Chan smiling at the end of this film – having sex sure – naked, of course - but still smiling.

This is the third in this film series dealing with the supernatural and sex and sometimes supernatural sex. The first two films had some connection but this one seems to be unconnected to those – more along the lines of Chinese Ghost Story but with a lot more writhing and moaning. What all three films share are solid production values and a story of good vs. evil in the supernatural world that spills over into the real world. Chu Chung (Cheung Ging-fa) is wandering the land with his betrothed (his family’s choice, not his) following him in men’s garb wherever he goes. It appears that he is doing his best to escape marriage and his family, but he has to come to her aid when a group of men realize that she is in fact a she and attempt to rape her. The two of them find refuge in an old forlorn and forsaken temple where they find a miniature monk (Shing Fui-on) trying not to become a dog’s dinner. They save him and help restore him to normal size. The woman Hsia-hui (Chik King-man) goes off to take a bath making most male viewers wonder to themselves – why on earth is he trying to run away from those – I mean from her.

Inside the temple Chu spots a painting of a woman on the wall and is instantly smitten. No, this is not a remake of Laura – not even close. The monk – Reverend Wick – tells him that the girl in the painting is in a way station between heaven and hell and he can help Chu get there but that he must be back before the incense burns out or he will be stuck for eternity. Sure why not. Inside he finds a glamorous setting – a sexual Disney Land with dwarves and nightly entertainment included. Everyone is getting it on and eternity doesn’t seem like long enough, especially when he meets the lady in the painting – I-Meng (Pauline) who beds him faster than a meal at Burger King. But like Disney Land there is a dark side beneath all the frivolity – her Ladyship (Otomo Rena) who wants to get the power to break out of this place and conquer the world. And Chu is just a mere pawn in her terrifying hunger for power - and the meat of her enemies. At one point to weaken her Ladyship, Reverand Wink does a Fantastic Voyage by getting small and going up her um um you know um. Oh, never mind. For this sort of film, this is highbrow stuff – every one glistens and shines – the colors are bright and cheery – and with Phillip Kwok doing the action choreography the fighting and wirework is better than one might expect in a film that is primarily a sexual romp.

My rating for this film: 6.0

Escape from Brothel
Director: Johnny Wang
Year: 1992

To be honest Escape from Brothel is a bit of a schizophrenic hoot that I enjoyed quite a bit. It jumps around from sex exploitation film to slapstick comedy to melodrama to sadistic violence to brutal action like a freewheeling pinball with no rhythm or reason. One minute a transvestite peeper in the women’s locker room, the next hung up like a piece of meat and being strangled. You try not to think about it too much and just go along with the ride. Director Johnny Wang is best known as an action actor, showing up in loads of Shaw Brother films, almost always as the heavy, but I notice in looking at his small filmography as a director that he was behind two other low budget action films that I quite enjoyed – Widow Warriors and The Innocent Interloper. So even though Escape from Brothel is known primarily as a Cat III bump and grind show, the action is very solid and very rough. As is the sex now that I think about it.

Pauline Chan doesn’t even get through the opening credits before she has to show her money makers to the audience and the same goes for her co-actress Murakami Rena who stares at her nude reflection in a mirror in the same way I look through a window at an Indian buffet – with pure delight. Hung (Pauline) and Ann (Rena) are practitioners of the noble art of making a man happy – in other words prostitutes. They work for Mama Suzi (veteran actress Pak Yan) who introduces them to Mr. Chou (Stuart Ong) one night as an airline hostess and a secretary who need a little spare cash. He happily obliges and takes them both for the Charlie Sheen like price of HKD 50,000. He brings along a sex book so that he doesn’t forget what to do – sort of like Sarah Palin having to write “Energy” on her hand so she won’t forget what she is supposed to say – a cheat sheet of sorts. Among his bag of tricks is the “Pushing 2 Carts” position followed by “Graceful Ladies Sitting Like Buddha” and finally “Hero Raising Arms to Drum” Exhausting work for all. Later when he realizes that the two girls are just ordinary low paid working girls, he reaps his revenge by having the two girls work each other over with a baseball bat – internally if you get my drift.

Hung has a boyfriend Sam (Alex Fong) back in the Mainland who has no idea what she is doing – but this changes when he is tricked by some friends to sneak into Hong Kong and participate in a phony robbery/insurance scam. Everything goes wrong though with a foreigner being killed and Sam on the run – not just from the cops but also from Billy Ho (Billy Chow) who set the whole thing up and now wants to clean up the entire mess. We were earlier introduced to Billy in one of Hong Kong’s more infamous action scenes. He is in bed with Sophia Crawford (one of the gwielo action actresses who came to HK in the 80’s and 90’s for work) when her “husband” and a friend come in and demand payment. Not from Billy Chow – one of the really terrific underrated action figures of this period – he demolishes the two men and then has to deal with a nude leg kicking Sophia. I wish I had been a fly on the wall for that scene. Sam shows up at Hung’s apartment and hides in the closet only to realize very quickly what his girlfriend does for a living – in the most graphic of ways – but Billy tracks him down leading to a simply splendid furious final fifteen minutes of pounding, gutting, burning, falling and more pounding. Good to the last drop.

My rating for this film: 7.0

A Man of Nasty Spirit
Director: Jeng Wai-lung
Year: 1993

You know that a film is confused when Pauline Chan is the only person who keeps their clothes on and when actor Dennis Tang plays the good guy. Having Pauline stay fully attired in a Cat III film goes against the grain of common decency – that is why we are here. It is like going to a Clapton concert to listen to the bass player. And Dennis Tang always plays the bad guy in films; either a Triad snake or as in Behind the Pink Door, a sleazy rapist. This film made little sense in general but this role playing switch threw things into total confusion for me. There is really nothing much that comes to mind to recommend this film to anyone who has a life – fortunately I don’t so I plodded along till the end. There is a fair amount of sex but its so low budget all they could afford were women with small bosoms! They must charge by the ounce over there. Here is the plot as best as I could figure it out.

The maniacal Pope is the head of the Happy Religion. In truth though only he, his henchwoman (Lau Hoh-man) and his two henchmen seem to be happy because they are having sex most of the time. As part of the sex ritual, the henchwoman does a nude snake dance that was not quite up to the standards set by Waheeda Rehman in the film Guide. The other followers don’t look all that happy at all, but this being a cult they still follow the orders of the Pope. There is some nonsense at the beginning of the film where the Pope steals the top half of a book that will give him immense powers, but the bottom half of the book is retained by Dr Yue (Jack Lung) who then writes it in with invisible ink on the back of his master’s little girl, Bao. Later Bao is kidnapped by Pope and taught by him to fight and fly and is kept a virgin in case of emergency. But he is unaware that her back contains the secret for world domination because it is invisible of course!

You see Pope has a little vitamin deficiency. If he doesn’t have sex with a virgin every full moon he will age rapidly and die. The nearest village has to provide these girls but they are running low. When the Pope has sex with them, he transfers all their life force to him – leaving them dead of course but he is revitalized and always gives a cheer like a college frat boy in his first drinking contest. One such virgin has been chosen but the night before her rendezvous with destiny, her boyfriend comes to her and says he wants to die too, but she says well since I am going to lose my life tomorrow why don’t we do it – and he sensibly says “ok. That would be better than me dying”. So Pope gets spoiled goods – where is the Consumer Protection Agency when you need them – and has to take one of his stocked virgins instead. Ok – so where are Pauline and Dennis in all of this you may wisely ask. Pope has an inner evil woman and every now and then he manifests himself as a female – Pauline, who for reasons known only to herself dresses like a British Magistrate or Christopher Lee in Jess Franco’s The Bloody Judge. Dennis just shows up and falls for Bao (Chan Choi-lan), who has grown up to be quite the poppy strumpet and has big goo-goo eyes for Dennis. This is probably not a film that anyone involved chose to include on their resume.

My rating for this film: 3.0

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Pauline Chan

Happy Chinese New Year! What could be less appropriate than a write-up on Pauline Chan in celebration! But nevertheless, here it is.

Whether Pauline Chan was ground down like processed meat by the Cat. III industry or was always ready to crack like a cement sidewalk is difficult to know, but it’s hard to deny that towards the end of her life it completely spun out of control in a series of bizarre episodes, drugs and self-immolation. Born in Shanghai in 1973, she moved to Hong Kong along with her mother in 1985. First she entered modeling at the young age of fifteen and in 1990 tried to gain her fame in the well-tested path of beauty pageants by getting into the Miss Asian Pageant. Next step, acting. Of a sorts. First she appeared as a TV hostess on a Mahjong quiz show on ATV though apparently she didn't have a clue how to play. But then right out of the shoot, Pauline was all about being in Cat III films and with her provocative body and her cruel sensuous mouth she was a natural. In 1992 and 1993 she bounced from one Cat III film to another and her comely breasts became as common a sight as the Peak Tram. Between these films though, she also became popular enough to land some juicy roles in non-Cat III films – the wonderfully loony Flying Dagger, an assassin with a flame thrower bra in Stephen Chow’s From Beijing with Love or as a degraded prostitute in Girls without Tomorrow. She was only 18 years old when she began in films, but right from the get go she looked older than her years with oodles of experience, cynicism and toughness etched into her face.

But as her Cat III career wound down partially to guys moving on to newer breasts in the business and to the fact that the Cat III genre began to fall out of fashion, she got fewer and fewer roles. So what does a HK actress do when her career begins ebbing – find a sugar daddy of course and Pauline found a wealthy one in the form of a much older Taiwanese tycoon. After that relationship ended in 1997, Pauline just seemed to lose it and her behavior became more and more suspect – beating up people, taking her clothes off in public and trying to kill herself during an interview. Then in the midst of all this she had a baby of all things – it was too much and within a month of the baby’s birth Pauline jumped from the 24th floor of her hotel – ending her life where it began – in Shanghai in 2002.

I only have a few pictures of her. I wish my photo dealer would supply me with more because though I don’t really find her attractive, I do find her compelling in a weird tragic way.


Much to my surprise I found that I had nine of her films in my collection that I had never watched. I just don't know if I am more surprised that I have them or that I haven't watched them! After watching seven of them my head began to spin and I had trouble remembering what month this was, so I stopped. Here are reviews on four of them – the rest to follow when the Moon Goddess rises in the East.

Behind the Pink Door
Director: Lam Gam-fung
Year: 1992

This is one of the more tepid rape/revenge films that I have ever come across. That sub-genre of revenge films has certain rules that you have to follow – horrible victimization followed eventually by gut wrenching cathartic satisfaction at the fate of the rapist or rapists. This film leaves the viewer on a totally downbeat anti-climatic ending that puts forth the moral position that you should not take the law into your own hands no matter what. What the hell. No, not in these kinds of films – that is the entire purpose of their existence – that sometimes you have no moral choice except to reap revenge. Of course that isn’t the only reason for this film to have been produced. The other one is nudity and sex and on that front this film delivers in spades with numerous sexual trysts occurring that often have nothing to do with the narrative. Just good old fashioned exploitation. Nothing wrong with that of course but as a warning the sex is squalid, rough and rather wretched.

Lyon (Matsukaka Hiroko) is driving home one evening when her car breaks down on a deserted road and she looks for help. This being Hong Kong of course the first car that drives by is full of leering men who take her to the side of the road and rape her. She calls her boyfriend (Alex Fong) and her sister Wella (Pauline Chan) to come get her and wants to initially go to the police. But her boyfriend Chin is a cop and thinks it will look bad that as a cop he could not protect his girlfriend and so he says he will take care of things. Lyon discovers that she has caught a venereal disease but unlike Pauline Wong in Her Vengeance or Chen Ping in The Kiss of Death who grab revenge like a strangled chicken, she just kills herself.

Since Chin knows by this time who was behind her rape, you would think this would send him off in a killing fury, but he wants to jail them for some of their other illegal activities and bides his time like a two-bit Hamlet. It is up to Wella (a bar hostess who is rightfully assigned to the “Big Bust” group!), to set the spider sex web for her sisters rapists. But after so much trashy exploitation, you might be expecting a snap crackle pop ending but for whatever reason the filmmakers go soft just when they needed to go for the jugular. This was one of Pauline’s first films in the business and there are a few nice close-ups of her face and of course the required gaze at her breasts. Alex Fong had already been acting for about five years, but I have to say this is some ghastly acting here on his part – it wasn’t really for another few years till he was able to bring some substance to a role.

My rating for this film: 4.5

The Girls from China
Director: Barry Lee Ying-yok

Hong Kong is a tough place to crack. Like New York City, if you can make it in Hong Kong you can make it anywhere. This is especially the case if you are a young innocent school girl coming from the Mainland to make a go of it. And even more so if you happen to be endowed like a piñata at a sweet sixteen birthday and the target of every lustful man in the city. Chow Ying (Isabelle Chow) arrives in Hong Kong by train from Beijing (to the tuneful ditty of “I Was Born in Beijing”) with stars in her eyes and optimism in her heart. She is going to stay with her Grand Uncle – but within a few days all her dreams are debris along the road – they have porno sitting in her room to watch (not that she seems to mind actually), one of her relatives is having sex by the poolside, another relative tries to molest her, she moves out to a small apartment where a tenant peeps on her in the communal shower, in a store where she finds work the manager (Leung Gam-san) tries to rape her and when that doesn’t work she is framed for theft and fired. Ya, Hong Kong is a tough town. But the tough bounce back.

Chow Ying finds a port of call with a sympathetic male friend but he is just a psycho in waiting and has a nasty habit of secretly videotaping his bed time reading. He tells Ying that she is his forever and can never leave – just the words she needs to hear . . . to get the hell out as quickly and quietly as she can. From here though it is all up – she gets a job as an insurance saleswoman but is unable to sell a single policy until she runs into an acquaintance from her home town – Fung (Pauline Chan) who seems to have made a success of it in Hong Kong. How? The old fashioned way – she “makes use of my gifted body” but she tells Ying not to get the wrong idea – she is no prostitute because she only keeps company twice a night! Interesting distinction. But she gives Ying good advice – if you want to sell, use your sex appeal and soon Ying is going up in the top of the insurance pops. But that is chicken feed compared to how she does when she meets an old customer (Leung Hah-shun) from her first job – an elderly man that none of the other clerks would help and she did – he turns out to remember her and to be head of a giant conglomerate and within two minutes of meeting her switches all the company’s insurance needs over to her. And she turns her body over to him. Complications ensue – but where there is a will there is a way to deal with old blackmailing boyfriends.

The only real reason to watch this film is to drool at the delights of Isabelle Chow, but it’s a darn good reason. She is a knockout. She has a beautiful clean cut impish face and a body that as the saying goes “dreams are made of”. And she shows lots of it. She first gained some Cat III notoriety with Sex and Zen in 1991 alongside a woman and a lucky flute and then appeared in a few other Cat III films – a couple non-Cat III films – and disappeared from the film scene. It is all mystifying. Why did she get into Cat III films and where did she go so quickly? My guess is she found a husband, but I can’t find out anything substantial about her on the Internet, so if any one knows let me know. And just for strictly information purposes, Pauline’s role is fairly small with only one quick jump in bed scene where her assets are momentarily visible.

My rating for this film: 5.0

Slave of the Sword
Director: Chu Yen-ping
Year: 1993

For the first fifteen minutes of Slave of the Sword one might easily be under the impression that they were watching your basic traditional early-90’s wuxia – people floating in the air, a symphony of clashing swords, bottles of spurting blood, heads being sent off in different directions than the bodies, cold blooded assassins waiting for their payment, an evil white-haired eunuch with a wicked laugh and so on. Then suddenly you are faced with a naked female nipple being imbibed upon by said assassin and not long afterwards Pauline Chan is unceremoniously rolled out naked from a carpet to a room full of waiting courtesans who inspect her body and pronounce it ready for consumption. Perhaps, this isn’t exactly your traditional wuxia.

But then this isn’t your traditional director. This is Chu Yen-ping, the mastermind behind such delights as Golden Queen Commandos, Pink Force Commando, Seven Foxes and Fantasy Mission Force. Chu Yen-ping is probably responsible for the acting nadir of more actors than the plague – Brigitte Lin, Sally Yeh and Jackie Chan being the most famous – but in truth even if they were forced to work for Chu due to pressure brought on by scowling men with tattoos, aren’t we rather glad they did? His films are often such incompetent, incontinent messes that they are sometimes glorious. Sadly, that isn’t really the case here. The film almost makes sense and that is usually a bad sign for Chu’s films and it is lacking in his typical excesses such as Brigitte Lin attaching a machine gun to her amputated arm. That was a movie moment to cherish. Slave of the Sword is more of a Freudian examination of children working out their desertion anxieties as adults – with swords, poison, throttling and ripping out of tongues. All covered in Psych 101.

Brother Yun (Jackson Lau) and Sister Hon (Joyce Ngai) are paid assassins – give them payment and they will kill anyone and bring back their head as proof. In their spare time they like to lick each other’s wounds and other parts of each other’s anatomy. Their pay master is Eunuch Li (Max Mok) who has a lot of enemies out there and wants them all dead. One of them is the father of Wu Nien (Pauline Chan), who puts on a nice dance show in taverns around the countryside at 7, 9 and 11 pm. Reservations not needed. Why the old father of a tavern entertainer is killed is a mystery but it sets Wu Nien on a rapid descent into rags and a dirty face – but then she is kidnapped and sold to the local Madam – also our Sister Hon who is clearly a multi-tasker. The film quickly devolves into a pale imitation of Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan as Wu Nien goes from victim to victimizer as she cuddles up with Sister Hon much to the displeasure of Sister Hon’s former lesbian lover. It is slowly revealed that all the main characters are tied together by childhood and all of them are still really pissed.

My rating for this film: 5.0

Hunting Evil Spirit
Director: Fong Yuen-shing/Fong Yau
Year: 1999

The women who entered the Cat III film industry did it for their own reasons and on their own volition, but even so there are times when you have to feel awfully sorry for them. Sure, getting naked is part of the business and you have to expect a bit of pretend torture, a bit of embarrassment, some tomfoolery and of course a fair amount of simulated foreplay and sex – but still, there should be limits to any one’s endurance. And that should be having to get naked and entwined with Charlie Cho. Cho was practically an institution in these types of films from the 1980’s through the 90’s – his leering lip licking smile is almost as much a Hong Kong landmark as the Convention Center. How this came about I can’t imagine but if the Book of Guinness Records has a stat for simulated sex in movies, Charlie Cho’s name would have to be there (unless Elvis Tsui beat him out by a whisker) beside it. Cho is the kind of guy you would avoid sitting next to on the subway and if for some reason you had to then you would want a long shower as soon as you got home. Not that he is an ugly fellow – he just gives off such sweaty hentai vibes that you just want to look at him out of the side of your eye. No doubt, as I have heard about Elvis, in real life he is probably a wonderful guy with a loving family but I sure would not accept an invitation to dinner at his house.

In Hunting Evil Spirit, lucky Charlie gets down and dirty with three different actresses – in one instance for a really lengthy and graphic grappling that had me reaching for the fast forward button. He was not shy, nor was she. Maybe she is Mrs. Cho. He plays Mr. Chen, an owner of a swimsuit and underwear manufacturing company and he makes good use of the models that parade about – but his true passion is Pauline (Pauline Chan) one of his designers. She has a boyfriend though and wants nothing to do with Charlie and this frustrates him so much that he naturally turns to a Taoist priest to aid him in his time of need – “I want to fever” he tells the priest who goes by the apt name of Black Magic (Fong Yau, who also gets co-directing credit if the word credit can be used here). No problem – fever you will – and he sends Chen’s spirit off to rape Pauline – who thinking this must be a dream, enjoys the experience more than one would hope.

Later though she begins to worry – could this have been a supernatural experience and so fortunately her boyfriend (Andy Dai) has a female cousin who is a witch. Don’t we all. Suchi (Otomo Rena) has an ever more powerful witch sister (Alvina Kong) named East Evil (which sounds like a bad business decision – would you go see a witch with the word “evil” attached to her?) but she is in Thailand getting a remedial course after Black Magic bested her in an earlier encounter. Mr. Chen wants more of course and so the two wizards battle for the possession of Pauline’s body but then Black Magic throws in the Blood Spell and all bets are off. Lots of nudity and cheap special effects are on hand – the only really magical thing we witness are Pauline’s supernatural breasts in a shower scene (among others) – where oddly she keeps her panties on – maybe something she picked up from a Harry Potter book to ward off evil spirits?

My rating for this film: 4.0