Torrent of Desire

If you are going to do melodrama, you may as well borrow from the best and no one did it better than Douglas Sirk in the 1950’s (check out “Imitation of Life” for what I consider the best melodrama ever made). This 1969 Shaw Brothers film closely follows the plotlines of Sirk’s “Written on the Wind” made in 1956 with Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone. Director Lo Chen (a.k.a. Law Chun) doesn’t quite bring the emotional gut punching impact that Sirk can – and he is let down a bit by the blandness of the two male leads, but this is still a solid melodrama that hits pay dirt from time to time and almost always entertains at some level.
Yang Fan, Chiao Chuang, Jenny Hu
Sirk was more than the master of melodrama though; he was also a wonderful stylist who is still being imitated today (Far from Heaven) and in this aspect Lo Chen nearly holds his own. The film swims luxuriously in nouveau rich glitz – fast cars, hip nightclubs, beautiful women, cheap sex, chic attire and sprawling glistening homes.  Lo also gives the proceedings a jangled feel with a hard driving soundtrack that alternates between rock and jazz and in one terrific segment Spanish guitar. He adds to this with lush inventive cinematography that makes great use of framing, wide angles, sexual posing and in your face close ups. After being so impressed by the sophisticated technical aspects of this film, it is surprising to see his lackluster filmography that appears to be filled primarily with “B” sounding films like Erotic Nights, Love Across the Sea, Raw Passions and The Concrete Jungle. Still if he brings as much style to those as he did to this, they may turn out to be hidden gems.
The film gets off to a frenetic edgy start that promises more than it eventually delivers. It also quickly establishes the personalities of three of the main characters. To a fast jarring saxophone beat, David (Chiao Chuang) and his sister Mona (Angela Yu Chien) are shown in separate rapidly interchanging scenes partying hard – David pouring wine upon a girl’s ample cleavage – Mona looking hard for a temporary sex partner – and both ending up in bed in desultory fashion – with a lovely moment as a dissatisfied, scornful Mona throws money at the young man framed between her crooked leg and kicks him out. They are both the products of a spoiled aimless upbringing and have no purpose in life beyond spending their usually absent daddy’s (Tien Feng) money on fun and games. The scene quickly goes quiet as the camera pans down on Hanming (Yang Fan) as he works at his desk late into the night.
Jenny Hu and Angela Yu
David’s dissolute life looks like it is headed for the rocks until he meets up with his serious friend Hanming at a fashion show being presented by Ms. Chen (Ouyang Shafei) and sees the stunning Danfeng (Jenny Hu) modeling on the runway. It turns out she is a friend of Hanming – in fact he seemingly cares for her but has never had the courage to tell her – and David quickly moves in on her. Hanming steps aside though as he sees that she is a good influence on his friend who quickly gives up fast cars and faster booze to show his love. The two soon get married and things seem very rosy until Mona begins stirring the pot of jealousy. She is in love with Hanming, but his lack of interest in her has led her to a series of one night frolics with callow-faced young men who seem to invariably get beaten up by her irate brother after she flaunts them like prized pet dogs and then looks on in pleasure as they get smacked around. Mona suspects that Hanming is in love with Danfeng and begins to play upon her brother’s lack of confidence – which comes to full fruition when he begins to think he is infertile. David takes up with the bottle again and things get quite muddled and explosive.
In the end the film falls a bit short of delivering the purple melodrama that seemed to be called for and opts for a conclusion that feels more driven by commercial morality than by artistic choice. There seems to be so much understated subtext here that is never explored  - does Danfeng marry David for love or money, are there potential incestual feelings between brother and sister, does the diffident Hanming really love Danfeng or is it repressed homosexual feelings for David that make him so unable to act? Going in these directions would have made this film so much more intriguing and it seems that may have been playing in the director’s head.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of the film is the trashy and vibrant performance from Angela Yu. Every look she gives in the film spells sex – tawdry spray on sex. She is bad to the bone here and is very alluring in such a trampy way that you keep wanting to see more of her. Actually, we do see a fair amount of her as she takes on a number of provocative poses, flashes lots of leg and in one scene lies topless for a few moments in bed in an attempt to seduce Hanming (and that he refuses is highly suspect). She rocks in this film and every appearance is a delicious slap in the face. As lovely as Jenny Hu is – and she is top level lovely – her character is much too nice and it is Angela that steams up the camera lens. According to the biography on the DVD, Angela was born in Beijing but moved to Hong Kong at the age of five. She signed with the Shaw Brothers in 1962 and had her first starring role in "Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore" (1965) and then received the Golden Horse Best Supporting Actress award for her role in the Linda Lin Dai classic "The Blue and the Black". Her filmography is fairly sporadic and uneven, but her career seems to have come to an end by the mid-80’s. She died in 2000.

Though the film doesn’t seem to be classified as a musical, it does contain a number of musical interludes with a few nightclub numbers and Jenny Hu’s character sings two songs. The film also has Wu Ma as a blackmailer, Ku Feng as the doctor and Tsang Choh Lam as a bartender.

Wu Ma, Tien Feng and Ouyang Shafei

My rating for this film: 7.0