Isle of Fantasy

Admittedly, this is not one of the great films of our time – or any time for that matter. Most people should probably avoid it like a bad cold. And I suppose that I should be embarrassed to reveal that I even sought out a film that is reviled by so many. In the two reviews in the HKMDB phrases such as “This could be the worst HK comedy I have ever seen, and I have seen a lot of bad ones” or “More cheapo product from the movie mill at Cinema City” are used to express their disdain. Film critic John Charles in his masterful compendium Hong Kong Filmography 1977-1997 dismisses the film with a cruel but fair “Strictly for the kiddies, this feeble effort (lensed in Thailand) is yet another would-be comedy". And yet I come forth to offer evidence of the charms that lie within this film.
These charms come in the names of Loletta, Fennie, Bonnie, Charine, May and Ann. The Happy Troupe Girls. All together in one place. With that sort of charm power emanating from the screen, is it really important to have a good movie too? It might be nice, but it’s not absolutely necessary – as in a four star restaurant – sometimes the ambiance is more important than the food. Here it is all about the ambiance. Cinema City producer and star Raymond Wong discovered all of these young actresses and helped start them on the road to different degrees of fame. At the time of this film in 1985, all these actresses were just at the beginning of their careers.

A quick and indulgent recap of their careers. Loletta was perhaps the most popular of the Happy Troupe Girls. She was a major cutie pie (and still is) –  who went from doing a number of teen and family comedies during the 80’s to some revealing Cat. III films in the 90’s. It was quite shocking and unusual for a mainstream actress to go that route in Hong Kong and especially one with her film resume. Though her career has slowed down the past few years, she surprised nearly everyone by first changing her name to Rachel and then appearing in the serious drama Ordinary Hero in which she received much critical praise.

Charine Chan, Ann Bridgewater and Fennie Yuen
Fennie was the one with attitude – a little chip on her shoulder – and her sleek shorthaired look made her appear very modern and stylish. She had perhaps the most varied film career of the group as she took on some fairly challenging roles from her early comedies to the martial arts of the Swordsman films (Blue Phoenix) and Tai Chi Master (Little Melon) to the purging drama of School on Fire and Pedicab Driver. These days she is primarily doing television and breast enhancement commercials.

With a professional ice skating background, Ann was usually the athletic one – tall and leggy like a skittish colt – and many of her roles had her displaying her physical skills. After her time at Cinema City, she was to move into the comedic “girls with guns” films for a short while, before her most famous role as Chow Yun Fat’s girlfriend in Full Contact. Not long afterwards she married and retired.

Bonnie Law, Loletta Lee and May Lo
The careers of the other three never really broke out. Bonnie appeared in less than ten films before retiring. Recently she was again in the press when her husband got into trouble with the Triads and she just made her first film in more than a decade – reportedly to help pay off debts her husband incurred. In her early Cinema City films Charine was often the ditzy one and looked slightly plump in comparison to the others – but by the 90’s she had lost this baby fat and was quite attractive with fabulous dimples. She too retired in the early 90’s and there were rumors that she became involved with a member of the triads. May Lo had a very solid acting career from the mid-80s to the early 90s, but her biggest break may have been when she caught the eye of Jacky Cheung. They were married in 1996 and she recently had their first child.
In truth, Isle of Fantasy is a trifle – sort of Swiss Family Robinson wrapped in pink chenille. Teresa Carpio is taking her troupe of Girl Guides to London when the plane crashes and they end up on a deserted island along with Raymond Wong. I suppose this is the fantasy of the film – one man – seven women – but since six of them are underage and Teresa is a pit bull, there are no romantic overtures taking place and hopefully not too many fantasies. The girls all take on different personas – Ann is the suck up apple polisher with some kung fu moves, Loletta spends most of the film running and screaming, Fennie is the tough little warrior, Bonnie goes into shock and thinks she is a kitty cat, Charine is inept in everything she does – in particular in throwing home made bombs and May Lo is Fennie’s comrade in arms.
They all eventually start working together – having some fun – singing a few songs (The Happy Troupe Girls actually put out a record) and fending off crocodiles and gorillas. The gorilla turns out to be the pet of a fellow who is on the island and it develops a crush on Teresa. It’s that kind of movie. Some pirates drop off Mark Cheng on the island in a state of near death and the girls nurse him back to health. Both Ann and May develop a crush on him, but interestingly he is most attracted to May – though in real life he and Ann were an item. Eventually the pirates come back and the group has to fight them with assorted weapons – booby traps, arrows, bombs, a catapult and some Preying Mantis kung fu provided by Fennie. It’s all quite silly but surprisingly violent.

The VCD does not have sub-titles, but the video does.

My rating for this film: 5.5