The Land of Many Perfumes [女兒國] (1968)

Starring Chow Lung-Cheung, Ho Fan, Pang Pang, Tin Sam, Fang Ying, Lee Heung-Gwan, Lau Leung Wa, Irene Chen Yi-Ling, Wong Ching-Wan, Cheung Yuk-Kam, Kong Dan, Yip Bo-Kam, Lee Hung-Chu, Gloria Wang Xiao-Ing, Tsang Choh-Lam

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Moderate. I’m getting somewhat bored of these because they’re all pretty similar.

What’s to say about this series that I haven’t already said? The Land of Many Perfumes is the fourth and final entry into the Shaw Brothers Journey to the West series of films, and unfortunately it’s the most minor of them all. Like the previous films, The Land of Many Perfumes opens with the monk Tang and his followers looking for a place to sleep at night. It’s a long, hard road to the West in search of Buddhist scriptures and beds are hard to come by.

The many perfumes of the title do not refer to thousands of little bottles of “eau du toilette” as you might expect. Nope, they’re talking about all the ladies in the region. Our heroes venture into a realm where only women dwell, reproducing via the river, but this method only allows them to produce female offspring. When the men arrive on the scene, it creates a frenzy among the women as many of them have never seen a man. They all wish to marry Tang, but it is the Empress and her daughter that scuffle the most about it. They don’t want to eat his flesh as the villains in the previous films all did, but they do lust for his flesh in other ways.

The Land of Many Perfumes makes great use of the large castle/courtyard set from The Assassin. I’m sure it’s in a lot of other Shaw Brothers films, but it is so prominently featured in Chang Cheh’s The Assassin that I will forever connect the set with that film. Director Ho Meng-Hua also picks up quite a few tricks from his fellow studio directors, and The Land of Many Perfumes looks much more like a traditional Shaw Brothers martial arts film because of it. Whip pans, snap zooms, you get the idea. The color palette is also darker than the other films in the series, with the movie taking a turn into near-horror towards the end. This visual shift could be taken as a precursor to Ho Meng-Hua’s later work in the Chinese horror and black magic genres, but that might be a bit of a stretch. All I know is that faces lit from beneath with colored lights is something of a hallmark for the Shaw Brothers horror films I’ve seen, and this is the earliest film in which I’ve seen the technique.

Even if this is the least impressive of Ho Meng-Hua’s Monkey King movies, there’s still a ton of great stuff contained here. If you were the Monkey King sitting high in a cloud, while your buddies were trapped in a ring of fire, what would you do to save them? If you said pull a Troll 2 and piss all over everything (effectively making it rain urine) to put out the fire, you get a gold star! It’s a new spin on the childhood story that “It’s raining because God’s crying” and I love it. The flamethrower also briefly returns, but the jug is tiny and it looks quite awkward here and not nearly as gratifying as it was in The Cave of Silken Web.

The last half hour with the Scorpion and Snake Spirit scurrying away with Tang to another cave is excellent fun and makes up for a lot of the film’s early meandering. But our heroes’ final triumph over these demons is the coup de fucking grâce. Apparently the only thing that can defeat these demons is the Moon King’s Chicken. No, not that chicken, a real chicken. When Sandy descends down from the heavens, hen under his arm, I was beside myself. When said chicken was unleashed on the demons and it grew to Godzilla size, it was over. I enjoyed the shit out of this movie. Unfortunately, they never made any more and this one ends in exactly the same way the others end, so I guess if I want some closure to the tale I’ll have to bite the bullet and start reading that massive tome.