Temptress of a Thousand Faces

This is a delightfully trippy lark that should have been accompanied by a soundtrack with Nancy Sinatra singing, “The Last of the Secret Agents” and Bardot and Gainsbourg doing “Comic Strip”. I am not sure if this would be called a James Bond imitator or a James Bond parody or even perhaps a parody of a James Bond parody – but whatever its intentions it hit a lot of my silly retro pleasure zones with its zany enthusiasm and unending energy. It has all the ingredients that these kinds of films are suppose to indulge in – the mysterious criminally insane mastermind, gadgets galore, close calls, fashionably coordinated minions and naughty sex appeal in spades. And of course, the requisite gauche headquarters of the mastermind. Like most of the other Hong Kong Bond-like films, this one is situated in a cave – and as popular as these are with the cool criminal in-crowd the rents must have been enormous. They have everything you need though to carry out your nefarious plans – invisible to the naked eye, lots of space for your helpers to hang out when they are not busy causing mayhem, areas that are easily convertible to dungeons and torture chambers and just in case things don’t go according to plan (and do they ever) numerous secret escape passages. But the air conditioning bills must be hell to pay.
Generally, the Shaw Brothers turned to director Lo Wei for these kind of films – in fact Wei made “The Angel Strikes Again” in this same year (1968) – but this time they interestingly recruited a Korean director. The Shaw’s attempt to borrow technical and filmmaking talent from Japan is fairly well-known, but they also looked to Korea where some fairly polished films were being produced. Not only did they receive funding from Korea in a number of co-productions, but they also drew on their acting and directing pool of talent. Some of the directors were Kim Soo-Yong, Choi Kyung-Ok and the director of this film, Chung Chang Wha (credited in Hong Kong as Cheng Chang-ho). According to this article* by Law Kar, Chung had primarily been a director of melodramas and historical films, but in Hong Kong he was put to work in action films – first this spoofy adventure film but later he directed some terrific kung fu films – the most famous being “The King Boxer” but also two Angela Mao films – “The Association” and the fabulous “Broken Oath”. A couple others of note were “The Skyhawk” and “Heads for Sale”. He made six films for the Shaws before moving on to Golden Harvest.
Daring robberies and panicky headlines are consuming the waking hours of Hong Kong as a villainess – known as the Temptress of a Thousand Faces - makes fools of the local police and generates grist for the howling press. In the habit of leaving her calling card after a robbery, she breaks into a bank vault and later buys a parcel of jewels with a check that explodes after she has left the premises. Yikes! Not only is she sneaky, but she also is able to take on any appearance she wants by putting on a rubber mask – that looks exactly like a rubber mask until she puts it on her face where upon it instantly looks exactly like a human face. Gasp! She carries around a bunch of these in her briefcase for any occasion. Later when she is called a thief by the heroine of this film, she is deeply insulted – “why do you call me a thief when many rich people make their money by lying and cheating”. Good point, but probably not a good defense in the courthouse.
The Temptress is being hunted down by a senior police inspector (Yeung Chi Hing) and his very able female assistant Ji Ying (the always luscious Tina Chin Fei) as well as by a feisty reporter Molly (Pat Ting-hung), but none of them are getting very close. In fact, Molly spends more time chasing after Ji Ying’s boyfriend/also reporter Yuk Dat (Korean actor Chen Liang) than she does after the Temptress. After Ji goes on television to badmouth the Temptress, she receives a bouquet of roses that emits a knockout gas and when she wakes up she is a prisoner of the Temptress – tied to a round table like a bondage queen and surrounded by a bevy of brightly costumed female followers of the Temptress all in a kneeling position. This is exactly how I'd like to wake up in the morning, but perferably without being strapped down. The Temptress uses her ample female staff for sponge baths and massages, but as later events prove she would have been better off having them take pistol practice instead. Still a good massage is hard to come by. With a low mist hanging in the air and everyone in color co-ordinated outfits, it looks like a movie set for a Vincent Minnelli musical. Ji is mocked by the Temptress behind her veil and then inserted into a revolving cylinder that tortures her with a high pitched sound until she collapses. Gasp! She wakes up in her apartment and wonders if the whole thing was a dream. She could only wish!
During the film, Ji is captured and brought to the Temptress Cave so often that it’s a shame she wasn’t in a frequent flyer program – but the Temptress of course never kills her – it’s so much more fun to toy with your captives like a ball of yarn. Next the Temptress takes on the appearance of Ji and steals diamonds right under the noses of police just to be mean and to get Ji in trouble with her boyfriend. This isn’t so bad, but when the Temptress then seduces Yuk Dat while the real Ji is forced to watch on a close circuit TV from her cell in the cave it’s a bit much for Ji who then in a fury breaks out of her confinement and shoots a passel of bad guys while still in her underwear. When she breaks out of the cave and finds herself on a busy highway, she brings traffic to an immediate standstill as every man offers her a ride and a leer. It only gets better though as she rushes to her boyfriend's house to save him from the clutches (and so much more) of the Temptress and finds them both still in bed. This leads to a lovely cat fight that sends them both crashing through doors and walls while poor Yuk Dat looks on in bemusement – certainly two Tina Chin-fei’s in underwear are better than one!
Interspersed in all of this is some bad slapstick comedy that should have been out of place but in retrospect nothing would really be out of place in this film, a pointless cabaret show with a heavily voluptuous female, a wooden leg filled with diamonds, a fight between Ji and four henchmen all adorned with specialized weapons (one guys whips out a ball and mace from his pocket! I could almost hear Mae West crack "And I thought you were just glad to see me!" ) and an ending as politically incorrect as one could wish for. It’s low art. Silly, nonsensical, muddled and inconsequential, but it still manages to entertain like being buried in a pile of feathers.

My rating for this film: 7.0

* There is a spoiler for this film in the article and I’d like to thank Tim Youngs for pointing me to the article.