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!
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.
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