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


YTSL said...

What you do for Hong Kong cinema... viewing horrible films not worth a rating of over 5.0!! But it's Chinese New Year -- get thee to a GOOD Chinese New Year comedy... maybe "The Chinese Feast" or one of the old Chow Yun Fat ones maybe? ;b

Brian said...

So are you trying to hint that you don't want me to bring these the next time I see you? Hey, somebody has to do the dirty work!

Rex Saigon said...

Contrary to what Yvonne says, MORE people need to record these "not worth a rating over 5.0" movies for posterity. There's so precious little out there about them, either in book form or on the web, largely because most Hong Kong film fans heed such advice and ONLY go watch the latest and greatest the city has to offer. By all means, DO THAT, but don't count the little guys out, even when they're producing sleazy junk like these Pauline Chan pictures.

I've made it my life's mission to chronicle as much of this kind of stuff (along with ALL the mainstream fare from HK) as my six nearby Chinatowns will reveal to me during my frequent dives through bargain boxes and racks stuffed with one- and two-dollar VCDs!

Something you probably don't know: Pauline's sex scenes in this are lifted IN THEIR ENTIRETY from Fong Yau's earlier Cat. III crapfest DEVIL OF RAPE, which also wastes the talents of Wu Fung and Helena Law Lan for good measure. Footage from DEVIL OF RAPE also turns up in Fong Yau's later SNAKE MONSTERS (2001), accompanied by repurposed scenes from his earlier WITHCRAFT VS. CURSE. You'd swear the man has a copy of the Godfrey Ho playbook!


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