Sex for Sale

Behind this rather misleading tawdry title lies the hidden heart of an old fashioned melodrama, but they sprinkle it with enough nudity and sex to give it an aura of being an adult film. Interestingly, the male lead is played by Chin Han who became the king of Taiwanese “weepies” during the 1970’s. The previous year he had starred in “Outside the Window” (1973), a very popular misty-eyed romance co-starring Brigitte Lin in her debut. I kept thinking throughout how shocked the young and innocent Brigitte must have been to see Chin Han (who she became involved with) rolling in and out of bed with everyone and dropping his pants as if at a command performance. He also does an enormous amount of mashing of lips with a kissing technique that resembled a hungry man digging into a rare and juicy steak. After the many close-ups of this mouth-to-mouth assault and battery, it’s a wonder Brigitte let him anywhere near her without a protective mouth guard.
Chin Han, Tina Chin fei and Ai Ti
Many of the so-called Shaw “sex” films from this period seem to like having it both ways. Though they deal out titillation like a game of Three Card Monte, underneath it they also want to apparently communicate a conservative moralistic message. Films such as The Pure and the Evil, Diary of a Lady Killer, Women of Desire and The Girlie Bar are filled with libidinous activities, but in the end these sexual urgings often bring on the depressing downfall of the characters. I suppose from a missionary point of view this might make perfect sense – bring the sinners into the theater with visions of sexual promiscuity, but send them home wanting to keep their peckers in their pants! This one does as well to some extent. For much of its running time it is an interesting story about one man’s sexual discovery in contemporary Hong Kong, but in the final third it begins to tilt almost laughably towards heavy handed drama.
Chin Han comes to Hong Kong from a small village to make it in the big city. He doesn’t have much going for him and is unable to find any work. He goes to an unemployment agency where the owner (Tina Chin Fei) eyes him up like a prized bull and invites him into her office. Strip she tells him if you want a job. Chin reluctantly does so down to his underwear. The underwear too, she purrs. He does so. Tina compliments him on his physical frame, as her eyes remain glued to a much lower part of his body. He passes the test and she takes him to a model shoot for bathing suits. The female model is Ai Ti (a Taiwanese actress in her debut) and the two eventually become friends. She runs a modeling school and invites him to come by sometime.
In the meantime, Chin has to pass another test and he takes this one under the sheets back at Tina’s house. Tina did for lipstick in the 70’s what Carrie Ng did for it in the 90’s. Her red sculptured lips look like an open invitation that reads “Entrance - Men Only”. Tina came from Taiwan to Hong Kong in 1963 and was able to join the Shaw training classes. After graduating she got a role in Hong Kong Nocturne and then put her trademark to good use in her next film, Operation Lipstick. She continued making films as well as becoming a host on television into the mid-70's. She married and retired in 1977, but left many lipstick smeared shirts behind her. At one point in the film, Chin calls her an old woman and a pig when he tires of her and wants to stop servicing her, but I had my hand up volunteering to take his place - she has oodles of sex appeal.
Chin came to Hong Kong a very naive man – he had only had sexual experience with a Malaysian girlfriend and he didn’t drink or dance – this was soon to be remedied as he begins a journey of sexual escapades, takes up with drink to keep him fueled, tips heavily at nudie bars and worst of all begins wearing chintzy wide collared shirts (though he sadly never learns to dance). Unknown to him, he is a stud and everyone wants a piece of him – what piece you can figure out for yourself. First is an older crippled woman (Ha Ping) who hires him to help wheelchair her around – and then assist in taking baths – and then much more. Others that come on to him include a sexually liberated model (Lou Bing-qing), a prostitute (Helen Ko), a landlady who gives him the option of paying rent or taking it out in trade and a singer.
Ha Ping and Helen Ko
The singer though is a guy – played by Yi Ta who was apparently a popular romantic novelist at the time and wrote this screenplay based on one of his books – who invites Chin to share his bed when Chin has no place to stay – “it’s big enough for both of us”. The one Chin really loves though is Ai Ti – but she wants only friendship and refuses to hurt her business by becoming involved with Chin. After one such rejection he turns to Yi Ta – “I hate women. Why can’t I be more like you? Teach me how to love men”. Now this was getting weird. I was expecting Yi to bring out the “How to Become Homosexual for Dummies” book, but instead he says, “Well if you really want me to” and gets downs on his knees to show him what a man can offer. Calling Brigitte Lin, where are you?
Yi Ta and Chin
The film is very nicely shot and makes great use of color and design. Having seen Chin Han in more Brigitte “weepies” than anyone should, I have to say his performance here is a nice surprise. In the “weepies” he is usually the stiff, silent boring type, but here he shows some easy hick charm and takes on a role that certainly was much more risqué and controversial than the films that made him a star. It also had to be quite unusual for a film to cover homosexuality back at that time – and in a fairly sympathetic manner even though the character does fall back on the stereotype of a mincing, overly sensitive gay man with a clean apartment!

My rating for this film: 6.0