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A tasteless, trashy, camp, cheesy, violent, and sexy women-in-prison flick (in other words, just how they should be!).
Hong Kong's legendary Shaw Brothers studio, best known for its classic martial arts movies, jumps on board the women-in-prison bandwagon with Bamboo House of Dolls, an entertaining exploitation effort that, although not as sleazy as a Franco, as sadistic as an 'Ilsa', or as stylish as a Female Prisoner #701, still offers fans of dubious film everything they could ask for from one of cinema's most disreputable sub-genres.
Set during WWII, the film opens in typically tasteless WIP style with a group of sexy nurses being violently accosted by the evil Japanese army (in a cool slow motion credits sequence, the action freezes whenever a bare breast or panty gusset is exposed); these women are taken to a concentration camp where they are abused, raped, tortured and occasionally killed by the camp's sadistic guards and the sexy, lesbian head of security, Mako (Terry Liu).
After loads of delightfully depraved action, including girl-on-girl shower sex, forced strap-on-action, cat-fights, and sadistic punishment, a small band of plucky prisoners make a bid for freedom, led by Hong Yu Long, the wife of a Chinese partisan (and the only person who knows the whereabouts of a secret stash of war gold) and the camp's interpretor (played by Lo Lieh), who has fallen for tasty blonde prisoner Jennifer (Danish softcore sex star Birte Tove).
Once the action moves from the camp to the countryside, Bamboo House of Dolls becomes a far less sleazy affair, with the concentration being on bloody sword and gun battles between the nasty Japanese and brave Chinese guerillas, and unimpressive martial arts fights on barren hill-tops.
Rather surprisingly, the whole film has a very polished look that suggests rather a lot of money was spent by Shaw studios, and the cinematography is quite beautiful at times (although I wish director Chih-Hung Kuei hadn't used his 'starburst' filter on EVERY shot!); it also benefits from a pretty snazzy soundtrack, which adds immensely to the overall 'coolness' of the film. If only Bamboo House of Dolls had managed to maintain the amazingly trashy vibe of its first half for the entire running time, then it would have easily have ranked as one of the best of the genre (but even though it loses some momentum towards the end, it is still well worth checking out).
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