Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Temptress of a Thousand Faces (Hong Kong, 1968)

Thanks to the release over the past few years of a large portion of the Shaw Brothers catalog on DVD, it should no longer be a secret to anyone who cares that the venerable Hong Kong studio was responsible for far more than the martial arts movies that got imported to the U.S. or horror movies in which people vomit up snakes. Among the more delightful discoveries to come out of this digital mother lode is the handful of James Bond inspired flicks churned out by the studio during the late sixties. Of course, since most of these movies don't actually feature any spies or espionage (the exception being the Angel With the Iron Fists series, which features Lilly Ho as a lady super spy ranked Agent 009) that influence is expressed mainly in terms of attitude and design. Films like The Golden Buddha and Summons to Death, for instance, share more in terms of narrative with romantic Hitchcock thrillers like North by Northwest or To Catch a Thief, yet still manage to include space age hidden compounds, knife's edge haberdashery, consumer objects with lethal hidden functions and, most importantly, a world well stocked with beautiful young women to serve as a sexual supermarket for the films' well-heeled and limitlessly mobile male protagonists.

Out of all these films, the 1968 actioner Temptress of a Thousand Faces comes the closest to being an exercise in pure style. Loaded with kink and anarchy - and set to a furious pace that both obliterates and makes redundant the need for coherence - it's a perfect example of the type of cinema experience that leaves you no choice but to simply let it wash over you...

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