The Venus Tear Diamond

The morale of this caper tale is that thieves need love just like the rest of us. Especially jewel thieves. Jewel thieves have always been treated like royalty in crime films – the crème de la crème of the thieving brotherhood – usually sophisticated, attractive and stylish. The epitome of this was of course Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in the 1955 film “To Catch a Thief” in which the two of them matched wits and fashions on the French Riviera as they fall in love with one another. The Venus Tear also matches up male and female jewel thieves as they joust with one another in love and crime – and also find time to sing to each other! Directed by Inoue Umetsugu, the film has his usual colorful sheen but is a much smaller and less extravagant production than his better known musicals for Shaw. Though this might qualify as a musical due to the number of songs within – they are very low key numbers (don't believe the dvd that reads "lavish production numbers") that simply have a performer singing on stage and are almost in the background at times. By the time of this film in 1971, the musical genre was winding down and the big budgeted numbers were becoming more of a rarity. Umetsugu who was the premiere Shaw director of musicals was to return to Japan the next year signaling an end to this genre.
When you think of attractive, stylish and sophisticated actresses to play a jewel thief during the 1970’s no one comes to mind more than the sleek and velvety Lily Ho who owns this movie with her soft brown beseeching eyes and reticent smile. She is a complete knockout in this film and the camera swoons about her like a drunken sailor in need of one more toast before his furlough is over. The Shaw Brothers tended to have their actresses fall into a few categories – the innocent cuties such as Chin Ping, Jenny Hu and Li Ching, the worldly fallen women like Chen Ping, Betty Ting Pei and Yum Yum Shaw and then there were the martial art babes like Cheng Pei-pei, Shih Szu and Lily Li. Lily Ho never really fell into any of these groupings – she created her own as a tough but vulnerable female who was always elegant and beautiful whether she was an assassin as in “The Lady Professional”, a wronged woman looking for revenge in “Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan” or the rebellious but dutiful daughter in “Hong Kong Nocturne”. In her forty odd films, her roles crossed all genres from martial arts to musicals, but she always brought a bit of a sexual edge and a lot of class to her characters.
Her romantic counterpart in this film is Ling Yun – elegant and handsome and with great credentials as a “thief of hearts” having been married to the legendary Julie Yeh Feng in the mid-1960s. Originally from Taiwan, he joined the Shaw Brothers in 1965 and worked for them for over ten years in a variety of roles. Here he is the “Nocturnal Earl” a debonair jewel thief who works his way around Asia with his male assistant (Chin Han Hsieh) looking for wealthy targets to strike. They have come to Japan where they hope to take the famous Venus Tear Diamond that is in the possession of a young and sexually needy widow (Tsui Chih-shu). They soon bump into two women who have come to Japan to enter into a singing contest – Lily Ho and Po Chih Hsien – but who are in fact the thieves known as “Fragrant Night”and who have also come to get their dainty hands on the Venus Tear Diamond.
Complications arise when Lily and Ling fall almost in love at first sight and if not then do so at first song – sung on rubber rafts to each other in the swimming pool. Their assistants urge them to put this ridiculous love aside (not knowing that the other is a jewel thief as well) and concentrate on the diamond – and they try but love is sometimes more powerful than greed. Still, Ling does his best to seduce the widow in order to get close to the jewel – not a very difficult job as she is clearly well past the grieving stage and on to the nooky stage. On the scene also is Li Kun – a wildcard who also seems very interested in the Merry Widow – but may be more than he appears. Little of this plays out with any sort of nail biting tension as the romance and music certainly overshadows the criminal aspects of the film. And it isn’t really much of a robbery – rather absurdly both thieves go through elaborate plans to rob a jewel that a blind man could find in five minutes – errrr – look in the drawer why don't you. Most of the charm of the film simply comes from its light touch, a few good songs, the Japanese locales and a warm chemistry between Lily and Ling that feels just right.

My rating for this film: 7.0