Journey of the Doomed

I have to admit that this 1985 Shaw film wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I was hoping for a low grade non-thinking action film with some fun female kung fu fighting. Now the film has a bit of that – certainly the non-thinking part - but it overshadows the limited action with surprisingly big gulps of nudity and sex. In fact, the first thirty minutes of the film seemed like a poor kissing cousin to ”Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan” before it went off into a different, rather dull direction. Certainly director Cha Cheun Yee went on later to make a decent girls with guns film, “In the Line of Duty V”, but really made his mark later in his two sly takes on triad life, “Once Upon a Time in Triad Society I and II”, but very little of this future talent is displayed in his lackluster debut. The worst thing about this is that the film begins with promise – even if not the kind I was expecting – but then makes a terrible decision by focusing on the two dullest characters in the film while allowing the interesting ones to fade away or stay off screen.
The Scent of Women is the hottest bordello in town with oodles of young good looking women, but of course you can never have enough and so the Madam forces one of her young servants to lose her virginity to a customer – but no need to worry – they give her a drug that actually makes her all hot and bothered and ready for action. Shui-erh is also a servant girl/adopted daughter and she doesn’t appreciate what has been done to her friend and throws a poisonous snake on the guy. This begins a series of events that leads to general disaster. Needing money for compensation, the Madam goes to the Emperor’s next in line for the throne brother (Tony Leung Ka-fai in a very small role) and tells him that Shiu-erh is the illegitimate daughter of the Emperor – born to a courtesan many years before. Shiu-erh quickly becomes a political pawn as the brothers want to make use of her – Tony to embarrass his brother and the Emperor for the hungry earthworms.
Tony sends a message to the Three Knights – Max Mok, Candice Yu and Ku Kwan-chung – to find the girl and bring her to him. The Emperor on the other hand recruits Alex Man and his two female killers, Kara Hui Ying Hung and Li Tien-lang (daughter of director Li Han-hsiang) to take care of her permanently before a scandal breaks out. An added complication is that Alex and Candice Yu have feelings for one another and he tries to convince her to look the other way so that he can complete one last high paying job for the both of them. The two assassins go to the bordello but decide that it's a lot easier to just kill everyone than trying to figure out which one is Shui-erh – and thankfully for the male viewers they go during bath time and so most of the women are running around screaming and bleeding in a state of undress. Most are also soon dead except our heroine who escapes and soon runs into a fisherman who helps her out of a jam. He is played by Stephen Tung who was later of course to go on to become one of Hong Kong’s best action choreographers – at this time though he seems very skinny and not the stuff of a hero – which may explain of course why he ended up focusing on choreography.
Up to this point the film has been somewhat entertaining in a seedy way, but at this juncture it takes a dreadfully bland detour as Tung and Shui-erh hide out in the woods and set up house – and have sex – and cook and have sex and eat and have sex (hey, there's not a lot else to do in the woods). I noticed that the actress (Fu Yin-yu?) who plays Shui-erh has the Shaw standard tongue out during the sex act trait – sort of like when Michael Jordan used to dribble a basketball - it makes me wonder if this was taught in the Shaw acting classes (“no – a little further out and with a bit of a curl”). All is tranquility in this loving household – so much so that I half expected the music – that is quite awful in its own way by playing a bunch of 70’s smaltzy love tunes – would throw in “Our House” from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young:

Our house, is a very, very, very fine house
With two cats in the yard
Life used to be so hard
Now everything is easy 'cause of you

Instead of two cats though they have a mute female (Emily Chu in a very early role) and love is all around. Of course sooner or later you know trouble will find them and it does. The film has some action – though not nearly enough – Kara does her thing for a while and then there is a big all over the place kind of fight at the end which was pretty silly, but a well-needed jolt to stay awake by that time. This film was made very near the end of Shaw's days as a film production company before they slid full time into television production - and the film's lack of a well-thought out script and the mediocre film sets reflect this.

My rating for this film: 4.5