Korea, 1934. During the Japanese occupation, there is open warfare between rival martial arts schools. There is a fight in the marketplace, and three Chinese students can't stand the unfair... See full summary »
Shang Li is fighting for the woman he loves, a prostitute he is trying to buy out of service. He plans to steal a large amount of silver, but when the plan backfires he is faced with severe opposition.
Charming stranger Pai Chen arrives in a small town to settle an old score with nefarious local hoodlum Scarface Wu Hsu, who runs an opium smuggling ring. Hsu is planning a drug deal with ... See full summary »
The Tseng family is one of the most noble and respected clans in a small village in Tibet. The patriarch of the Tseng family wants to marry off his daughter Ching Lan into the Kao clan. ... See full summary »
The Eunuch of the Emperor has ordered the commander of his army condemned to death for betrayal and insurrection. The commander's family was was murdered to cut off his bloodline, but his ... See full summary »
Tien arrives in town looking to exact revenge on Ling for abandoning her pregnant sister and thus driving said sister to commit suicide. Although Tien agrees to help Ling take down the ... See full summary »
BACK ALLEY PRINCESS Life in the slum quarter of Hong Kong, with plenty of kung fu
BACK ALLEY PRINCESS (1973) is an unusual entry from Golden Harvest. It's a drama of contemporary Hong Kong, with some comic elements, but it's also filled with kung fu. The focus is on poor and working people with a pair of street urchins at the center and the extended family of street performers and vendors they soon join. In this aspect, it's reminiscent of the Shaw Bros. comedy-drama of the same year, THE HOUSE OF 72 TENANTS. What distinguishes this one is the presence in the lead role of Polly Shang-Kwan (aka Lingfeng Shangguan and assorted variations of that) who'd made her film debut in the swordplay classic DRAGON INN (1967) six years earlier. Here Polly plays an orphaned boy, known only as "Chili Boy," who engages in petty thefts and street hustles with the aid of her sidekick, "Embroidered Pillow" (comic actor Samuel Hui). Now, I'm familiar with Polly's frequent appearances in kung fu films where she plays a female fighter traveling the roads of ancient China in male garb. In those films, she always looked like an attractive woman who happened to be wearing male clothing and it took a while for me to understand the convention of those films that every person who encounters her would immediately and unquestioningly accept her as a man. I even discussed this in my IMDb review of her film, 99 CYCLING SWORDS (1980). In this film, however, the actress has short hair throughout, wears boy's clothes and moves and talks like a hyperactive boy of the streets. She really inhabits the character in a way I've never seen in any of her other films. It's easily the best thing she's ever done.
Chili Boy goes through a lot in the course of the film and gets caught up in the drama of the large family he becomes a part of. He initially enters their orbit when he offers to act as a barker to pull crowds into their act, proving such a success that they ask him to join them. When a schoolgirl in the group is robbed of her school fees, Chili Boy goes out and pulls a scam on a good Samaritan lawyer in order to get the money. When the landlord raises the rent on them, Chili Boy turns to that same lawyer to plead their case. The lawyer is so pure-hearted that he offers to adopt Chili Boy as a ward and pay for his schooling. (The fact that this good-guy lawyer who's such a soft touch happens to live in a mansion with lots of servants is just one example of how far-fetched things get in this film.) Just when it looks like the story will shift to a tale of a poor boy's reaction to a new life of privilege, it takes a turn into crime film/kung fu territory. The schoolgirl who'd been robbed earlier gets abducted by a gang working for a pimp. To find her, Chili Boy and another young woman in the group pretend to sell themselves into prostitution in order to rescue the girl, which means that Chili Boy has to dress up as a pretty girlone who looks like the real Polly Shang-Kwan! There's a big plot hole in this section that never gets addressed, but it's all quickly overwhelmed by a series of kung fu battles between our "heroines" and the pimp and his gang. The gender-bending is then taken another step in an amusing twist ending.
The cast is filled with familiar Hong Kong performers of the era, including Tien Feng, Li Kun, Han Ying Chieh, Wang Lai and in a smaller supporting role, Carter Wong, future star of tons of kung fu films, including BORN INVINCIBLE and 18 BRONZEMEN. Liu Yung (future star of Shaw Bros.' Emperor Chien Lung series) plays the lawyer. Helen Ma (DEAF MUTE HEROINE) plays his girlfriend, conveniently named Helen Ma. The woman who joins Chili Boy in selling herself as part of the rescue attempt is none other than kung fu diva Angela Mao (LADY WHIRLWIND), who has a major supporting role throughout, although she's billed in the credits as "guest star." She gets to fight a lot, too, especially in the final section where she and Polly take on an army of thugs by themselves. Angela, as usual, is pure poetry in motion, but I was astounded by how good a fighter Polly is in these scenes and much more convincing at it than I've ever seen her.
While I enjoyed the film, I take issue with the fact that after the scene where we first see the street performers in action, we never see them performing again. It's as if they completely forgot what they're supposed to do for a living. That scene was a lot of fun and is one of the best in the film. I would have liked more.
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