Back Alley Princes

Though this film stars two of the kung fu female legends of the 70s – Angela Mao and Polly Shang Kwan – the focus of the film is not really on action – but instead it is a warmhearted and comic film with only sporadic action throughout. It almost has a certain Chaplinesque sentimental feel to it combined with some other more intense scenes that seemed influenced by the Blaxploitation films. It all makes for a rewarding film that is very different from others I have seen from that same time period. The film version I saw was unfortunately dubbed, with German subs and a with a very poor picture transfer.
Polly and her friend Sam Hui (Aces Go Places) are two orphans adrift and trying to make do on the streets of HK during the 1970’s. Making do usually consists of either scamming or petty robbery. None of this though is for particularly high stakes and both of them basically have good hearts. On one occasion Polly picks someone’s wallet – and is horrified to find out how much money she has stolen. So she only takes out what she needs and returns the wallet to the man’s pocket!
Sam and Polly
The other unusual thing about Polly’s character is that she is disguised as a male throughout or as a man pretending to be a woman! With her short hair, dirty face and male clothes no one seems to notice that she has a certain upper torso development that would be considered a bit unusual for most boys! I am not even sure if Sam knows the truth.  She calls the two of them “the Back Alley Princes”.
Later the two of them become friends with some peddlers who all live in a communal apartment and the two move in as well. Angela Mao is the daughter of one of the peddlers and develops a minor crush on Polly! Angela’s role is a secondary one – this was filmed before she had become a star - but she does manage to involve herself in three fights.  The peddlers are very supportive of one another and finally for the first time Polly feels like she belongs to a family. Carter Wong also lives among them and has a good fight of his own. Helen Ma – another Kung Fu female fighter makes a cameo as the lawyer’s girlfriend.
Angela Mao
Thankfully not all is idyllic in this poor but caring community as a sleazy brothel owner (perennial villain Han Ying Chieh) attempts to steal two of the girls from the group and this leads to two excellent fights. On one occasion a gang of toughs tries to kidnap one of the girls and Polly and Angela rescue her and beat most of the men senseless with a flurry of kicks and punches. Later the two of them infiltrate the headquarters of the sleaze merchant by pretending they have been sold into prostitution (in which Polly has to disguise herself as a female!) and this leads to another excellent fight.
This was a very enjoyable film that takes the viewer on a trip through the streets and tenements of Hong Kong and takes you into the hearts of this makeshift family that you will come to care for. There is a sequel to this film called Chinatown Capers starring Polly and Sam that I look forward to seeing. By the way, Polly won the Golden Horse Best Actress award for her very personable performance in this film.

My rating for this film: 7.5

Sam Hui