The 5 Billion Dollar Legacy
Departing from the kind of films that he usually
made for Shaw, Japanese director Inoue Umetsugu strayed from glossy musicals
to make this enjoyable suspense thriller. Of course before coming to Hong
Kong, Umetsugu had made a number of films in non-musical genres so this
was not a great leap for him. Not only was this perhaps a return in style
to his Japanese directing days, but was also a physical one as nearly the
entire film takes place in Japan (though the interior scenes were likely
done on the Shaw lot). Umetsugu focuses on creating a tight fast moving
plot that has its share of “surprise” twists – that truthfully most viewers
should see like an oncoming truck with headlights flashing. Even
so the film breezes along with just enough complications to keep you slightly
on your toes, but not exactly forcing you to exert much brainpower in putting
this fun puzzle together.
There isn’t a lot of star power in the film –
basically a group of unknown young actresses and a few older male character
actors. This may have been considered something of a launching pad for
the actresses but their careers never really took off afterwards. Umetsugu
specialized in working with young actresses who were at the beginning of
their careers or just beginning to become stars such as Lily Ho, Cheng
Pei-pei, Li Ching, Chin Ping and they gave him some of their best work
and in return he made them all look glamorous and chic. That is not really
so much the case with the main female threesome in this film – though they
are certainly not lacking in appeal – but this film is not steeped in make
believe Technicolor glitz like his musicals.
The three main actresses here are Margaret Hsing-hui,
Kuo Man-no and Wang Ping. Wang Ping had perhaps the most success of the
three – she was born in 1950 and joined Shaw Brothers in 1969 and debuted
in this film in the same year. A year later she was to receive some success
in two Ti Lung/David Chiang vehicles – “Vengeance” and “Singing Killer”.
Initially portrayed in films as a shy innocent, she moved – like most actresses
of the time – into martial arts roles in films such as Duel for Gold. In
the late seventies she moved to Taiwan to work but returned to Shaw in
1982 to act in “Tiger Killer” for which she received the Golden Horse Best
Actress Award and retired for good soon thereafter. Kuo Man-no had been
in film for a few years already – first starting at Cathay but moving to
Shaw in the late 1960’s and undergoing an image change to a sexy young
thing that she definitely pushes in this film. She was out of film within
a few years.
Margaret had perhaps a more interesting life after
she left film than while in it. She was born in Shanghai in 1944 but soon
moved to Hong Kong and after graduating from high school was enrolled in
the Shaw acting classes. In the first few years she only had a few minor
roles as she watched her classmates Cheng Pei-pei and Li Ching garner much
fame. Her first lead role was in 1966 (The Joy of Spring) and over the
next seven years appeared in a number of not quite “A” level films. In
1973 she left the business and she moved to California where she married.
Here she vanished from the public view until in 1994 her mother’s body
was discovered and after a year stuck in a mental institution Margaret
confessed to killing her and was sentenced to eleven years in jail – meaning
I guess that she gets out soon.* In this film Margaret is quite the goody
two shoes – no dead mothers in sight – and is very appealing with I thought
a resemblance to current actress Rosamund Kwan.
The plot for this film has a suspicious similarity
to the recent Hong Kong Twins outing “The Death Curse”. Three young women
receive letters from a man claiming to be their unknown father. He tells
them that he is now extremely wealthy and feels bad for never getting to
know them and for never contacting their respective mothers. He invites
them to visit him in Japan and tells them that they are the heirs to his
fortune that comes to five billion dollars. They are pleased. I'd be pleased
to. The women – Margaret, Wang and Kuo – co-incidentally meet on the airplane
and learn that they are half sisters . . . and also that they have
some others to share the will with. Wang is blind and only too happy to
meet family as she is an orphan, but Kuo is less than thrilled – in her
previous life she and her pimp boyfriend had run cons on men by setting
them up sexually with Kuo and he played the irate husband who discovers
them. On the plane they all meet Chin Feng who is going to Japan to investigate
the mysterious death of their father’s lawyer.
Once they reach their father’s huge estate things
begin going askew. Their reclusive father who is paralyzed in a wheel chair
tells them that he has changed his mind and left his money to his sleazy
leech of a nephew. Then a ghost begins stalking the halls at night and
an ogre with one eye hanging out of the socket takes an interest in them.
Creaky doors and heavy footsteps soon follow with a fair amount of female
panic and running around. With no money to be had they think about returning
to Hong Kong, but then the first dead body shows up with a knife sticking
out of it like an uninvited guest – others are to follow.
*Information on Margaret Hsing-hui derived
from an article in Totally HK – in the wonderful series of actor profiles
from Paul Fonoroff called “Reel Lives”.
My rating for this film: 6.0