Sexy Playgirls

Directed: Lu Chi

It always feels more than a bit incongruous when the majestic Shaw Brother’s logo appears on the screen accompanied by the heralding trumpet blare only to be followed by scenes of frolicking women in the nude, but that was often the case beginning in the early 1970’s. Rules regarding on screen female nudity were eased considerably soon after the turn of the decade and the Shaw Brother’s happily jumped into the melee with a number of productions that were marketed as “mature content”. Interestingly, in Japan a similar trend was taking place with the growing popularity of the “pinku” genre, but the adult genre in Hong Kong never approached that of Japan’s in either imagination or excess and for the most part was very mild in comparison (even though full frontal nudity was allowed while in Japan it was not).

Many of Hong Kong’s films that fell into this category were puerile comedies or bland moral lessons and only a few had the hard edged gritty realism (i.e. “Kiss of Death”, “The Sexy Killer”) or simple audacity (i.e. “Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan”, “The Bamboo House of Dolls”) that has allowed them to withstand the test of time. Thirty years later most of these films seem hopelessly out of date with a shock and titillation value that is negligible. At the time though they were very popular and helped keep the Shaw Brothers afloat for a number of years. The films were not underground fare by any means and many of the actresses who dared to bare their assets became very popular starlets and the films sometimes had top directors such as Chor Yuen and Li Han Hsiang at the helm, but unfortunately most often it seems that Lu Chi was running the show. A popular actor in the 1960’s who was often teamed up with Connie Chan, he switched over to directing and made a boatload of adult films during the 1970’s into the early 80’s. Obviously, these must have made money but I can’t for the life of me understand why. He is in love with odd camera angles, has no sense of narrative and perhaps most damning makes sex and nudity seem boring, silly and claustrophobic.
If this almost southern gothic drama had been under a competent director it could either have been a terrific grungy exploitation film or a tense Hitchcockian suspense thriller, but in the hands of Lu Chi it misses all the potential opportunities and plays it dutifully by the numbers. It stars two of Hong Kong’s better known actresses though they come at the film from two very different directions. Li Ching was a Hong Kong sweetheart during the 1960’s in many of the top films of the time, but her popularity was ebbing by now and she was to play in a number of these slightly tainted films in the 70’s – though never displaying anything beyond a bare shoulder or a bit of leg as far as I know. Chen Ping on the other hand was just beginning to establish her credentials as the toughest broad around in a series of exploitation films like “Kiss of Death”, “Big Bad Sis” and “The Sexy Killer” in which she displayed a hard right as well as her charming endowments. Oddly, in this film though it is the Li Ching character that gets to go ballistic with a pick axe while Chen Ping’s character is the good girl who wouldn’t dream of knocking a few heads together. She does thankfully have a very brief topless moment – a Chen Ping film without her breasts on display is like a slice of pecan pie without the whip cream. This though is the only nudity in the film giving some lie to the “sexy” or the “playgirls” in the title. I would imagine a few male customers were demanding their money back after seeing the show!
Lu Chi rushes through the initial set up like he has a train to catch – within five minutes we learn that Pei Pei (Li Ching) and her sister Shanshan (Chen Ping) are now orphans after mom died. Her dying wish was to have Pei Pei look after her younger sister and so when Shanshan comes down with leukemia Pei Pei has to raise the money to send her sister to the U.S.A. for treatment by marrying her older boss who remains encased behind thick sunglasses. But anything to keep her promise to mom and for her little sis. On her wedding night though she begins to suspect that her husband is just a bit off – he photographs her in the bath, forces her to drink “wine of ecstasy” and then has the chauffer attempt to rape her – before he steps in to finish the job. When she wakes in the morning she sees his now uncovered deformed eyes and also notices that he is dead – causing her to go nuts and be put into an asylum. In the asylum she slowly recovers by listening to the music of Tao Sha and his song “Golden Bird in a Cage” and when Shanshan returns all recovered they move into the dead husband’s house – but strangely she keeps the chauffer on – they must have tough labor laws in Hong Kong. We are now about five minutes into the film!
Pei Pei becomes a recluse though and is only brought out of her shell when Shanshan brings her new found love home – none other than Tao Sha (Chung Wa). But behind Pei Pei’s big brown limpid eyes and sweet appearance lies a raging psycho and she is determined to steal away her sister’s boyfriend (thankfully there is still plenty of that “wine of ecstasy” around for purposes such as this). Shanshan discovers that Tao ended up in bed with Pei Pei and so leaves – but this isn’t enough for the corroding mind of Pei Pei and she is filled with jealousy and hate for her sister – and first stomps on a pillow with no mercy that reminds her of her sister’s face, then fixes the car breaks to try and kill her and then hires four men to rape her (but not before trying them out herself as all four jump on top of her simultaneously like linemen going after a fumble) – and then picks up the pick axe. What would mom say? It should have been so much better with all this going on and Li Ching gives it her acting best, but it never really generates much excitement though it is certainly passable entertainment and much better than any other Lu Chi films I have come across.

My rating for this: 6.0