The Girlie Bar
Well there is good melodrama and there is bad
melodrama. This one is baaaad melodrama – so weighed down with clichés
and awful dialogue that I thought it was going to drown like a screeching
cat in oil. So bad that it was all I could do not to fall off my chair
laughing as a series of very bad things happen to the characters in the
film (I know it's not right to laugh when a child suffocates to death,
but I could not help myself and I feel so guilty!). But then I suppose
I have to admit that with a title like “The Girlie Bar” I wasn’t exactly
expecting “The Best Years of Our Lives”. I was instead of course anticipating
a fascinating socio-economic discourse on the sad position of women in
Chinese society – or at least the back of the DVD might lead one to believe
that as it states “In this tearjerker, The Girlie Bar is basically an allegorical
tale that follows the plight of the Chinese woman and they way they are
treated by males in Chinese society”.
Huh? And I thought it was just an excuse to show
a lot of naked breasts. It shows how little I understand film sometimes.
I came for sleaze and instead was enlightened. I feel good about that,
about myself – I want some sort of good citizens award thrust on me by
a feminist group. No, those were not naked breasts going hither and thither
that I witnessed during a free for all catfight – that was a treatise on
sexual exploitation of the most scurrilous kind and I abhor it. Wink wink.
If one didn’t know better, you might think that the scene in which the
bar catches on fire and loads of women run about like the keystone cops
in a state of undress for about five minutes was purely done for unsavory
purposes – but it was no doubt to show how dangerous this life style could
be and a needed warning to the authorities to improve fire safety standards
in these types of establishments.
What is mildly fascinating about this Shaw Brothers
film – very mildly – is the manner in which it combines the genres of old
fashioned “weepies” and drooling exploitation. Unfortunately, neither is
done very well – it is like a two headed dog that goes in circles and slobbers
all over itself - one of those heads has got to go. My preference would
be the “weepie” head – if anyone shed a tear ever over this film they should
have themselves put on medication immediately – and my guess is that most
people who went to see this when it was released in 1976 did it for the
scantily clad women and sat in the back of the theater. Hopefully, some
of them came out as enlightened as I did and perhaps some even made a quick
trip to Kowloon or Wanchai to express their regrets in certain locales
for their past behavior.
Though in truth the sex here isn’t really the
kind to inspire anyone – unless watching people roll around in dingy surroundings
on unmade beds in poor light making sounds like they are at an all you
can eat buffet does it for you. Watching Dean Shek doing this in one scene
may have turned me off of sex forever. There is a classic scene that makes
me wonder if the concept of seduction has perhaps changed in the past 30
years. One of the actresses is on a beach with a client – she slowly lowers
her top – no complaints so far – and then begins rolling on the sand –
and rolling – and more rolling – and yes more rolling – I was worried she
was going to end up in Singapore or with some really bad sand burns – but
the guy was loving it – I was laughing like crazy.
A seedy looking customer with a big bottle of
hootch comes into Old Gai’s bar looking for some fun. This isn’t exactly
high end – an hour goes for $3.30 at night – a bargain of $2.20 in the
day – for an hour’s worth of time with the lady of your choosing. He is
drunk and difficult and damn dirty, but Old Gai (Yeh Feng) never turns
any money away. He informs the fellow that the Blossom Sisters are available
– “the oldest is a sexy widow, the middle one is a wild girl and the youngest
is a gentle rose”. What a line up. He naturally goes for the gentle rose
– but Fen (Lin Chen-chi) wants nothing to do with him and his unwashed
odor and refuses to sit with him. So Old Gai takes down the bullwhip and
whacks the hell out of her. But it’s just his way of showing his love he
explains – he should know because he is her father. Father Knows Best he
isn’t. In a lengthy prologue we learn – with dramatic black and white stills!
– that after his wife died Old Gai went into hock to Sister Long – and
his only way to pay her back was to open a little bar with his daughters
as the main entrees. The three girls gladly oblige – anything to help dear
Tragedy litters this film like a harvest of road
kill. The eldest daughter Hong (Helen Ko) was married to a sailor
but he drowned in a shipwreck (flash to waves crashing on rocks to make
the impact really hit home) and she has to raise her son on her own. When
customers come to visit, the sweet little lad scampers into the closet
to stay out of the way and gets two biscuits afterwards as a reward for
keeping quiet. She now has Dean Shek promising to marry her, but would
anyone believe Dean Shek? The middle daughter Yan (Chen Ping) fell for
the promises of a rich guy who took a quick hike after she gets pregnant
and now has the bouncer in love with her. Her father advises her at one
point to take up with him because “he only likes to fight, is low class
and illiterate, but is a nice guy”. He should write a Lonely Hearts column.
Both of these women seem to take pride in their jobs, but Fen hates it
and looks for a way out.
It comes in the form of a rich college boy, but
what about her past she wonders – will it come back to haunt her? She pensively
thinks about this as he sings her a song – she pensively walks, pensively
sits, pensively stands by a tree – but comes to no conclusion. Her sister
tells her “For women like us, love is beyond our reaching”, but Fen isn’t
deterred. Other little stories populate the film – all very sad – like
the fellow (James Nam Gung Fan) who comes looking for his prostitute girlfriend
named Suzy Wong from 20-years ago that he left pregnant – only to find
himself in bed with his own daughter who has taken up where mom left off!
Things soon go from bad to worse and the film along with it.
There are some plusses to the film – a couple
nice songs, lots of familiar faces in character bits – Fung Fung as a collector,
Lee Man Tai as a customer, Tsang Choh Lam as an employee of the bar, Peter
Chan Lung as a thug (there is some kung fu in the film), Wong San as the
rich boy’s father, Jason Pai Piao as a bouncer, Chan Lau as a mute bouncer
(and credited with the action choreography), Tony Liu as the main thug,
Chen Ti as another creepy customer, Ho Pak Kwong as a customer and Billy
Chan has a quick pass through as well. Yeh Feng – Old Gai – was actually
a very popular comedian at the time specializing in country bumpkin types
of roles in films such as Crazy Bumpkins, Return of the Crazy Bumpkins
and Big Time for the Crazy Bumpkins. That’s a lot of bumpkins.
Most pleasurable was Li Chen-chi even if she is
the only woman to keep her clothes on in the film. Co-incidentally I just
saw her a few weeks ago in Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold. She
plays Stella Stevens adopted daughter and is a major cutie in the film.
I wondered at the time who she was and if she was in other HK films and
here she is. Though I didn’t recognize her while watching Cleopatra, I
did immediately here – four years later she would take on cult status by
playing Pearl in Tsui Hark’s Dangerous Encounter – 1st Kind as the bomb
throwing nihilist. Though she doesn’t show a lot of emotion in this film,
she has this intense beauty that must have been what Tsui was looking for.
My rating for this film: 5.0