Virgins of the Seven Seas [洋妓, Karate, Küsse, blonde Katzen] (1974)
AKA The Bod Squad, Enter the Seven Virgins, Foreign Prostitutes
Starring Sonja Jeannine, Diana Drube, Gillian Bray, Tamara Elliot, Deborah Ralls, Yueh Hua, Lau Wai-Ling, Wang Hsieh, Helen Ko, Li Min-Lang, Kong Yeung, Wang Han-Chen, Law Hon, Chan Lap-Ban, Chu Yau-Ko, Sai Gwa-Pau, Aai Dung-Gwa
Directed by Ernst Hofbauer & Kuei Chih-Hung
Expectations: Low. I’m expecting something trashy.
On the general scale:
On the B-movie scale:
In addition to being the year of newfound freedom, 1974 was the year that the Shaw Brothers invested heavily in partnering up with other international studios to co-produce films. They had done a few films like this scattered throughout the years (their first being the 1961 comedy The Three Ladies of Hong Kong, produced with Toho), but there were seven co-productions in 1974 alone! I imagine they had hopes of reaching new markets with these films, perhaps in an attempt to replicate what Golden Harvest & Warner Bros. had done with Enter the Dragon. Virgins of the Seven Seas is the second Shaw co-production I’ve seen, and it also holds the distinction of being the trashiest Shaw Brothers film I’ve seen yet. And to be honest, I don’t know that I expect any future film to unseat it!
The film features a simple tale of human trafficking and revenge, but mostly it features a lot of nudity. These poor actresses spend almost the entire film topless, tied up or having simulated attempted rapes inflicted upon them; I can’t imagine it was a great filmmaking experience for them. But these are the sacrifices you have to make when filming a movie about five German women kidnapped by pirates who learn kung fu and take revenge on their captors. The film is not shy about being as trashy as it wants to be, but I must admit that the nearly non-stop nudity does give the film a quality of reality that it would not otherwise have. Is it gratuitous? Of course, but because of the gratuity and the relentless aggression of the villains, the women’s fear and vulnerability never left my mind. The film is an exploitation sex comedy with kung fu, so it’s about as far from a message movie as you can get, but regardless it made me reckon with the horrors of human trafficking and the the victims of the sex trade in a heightened, visceral manner.
Virgins of the Seven Seas was co-directed by German softcore filmmaker Ernst Hofbauer and Shaw Brothers’ up-and-coming shock artist and Silver Emulsion favorite Kuei Chi-Hung. Consequently, the film feels like a Shaw film and entirely not like a Shaw film, and it’s a unique feel that’s hard to describe. The most obvious visual clue is that the traditional Shaw shooting style is largely missing from the film, so don’t go in expecting lots of snap zooms and the like. This makes me think that Hofbauer was more of the primary director, especially since Virgins of the Seven Seas also contains many shots of the same old Shaw sets from new and completely different angles. I imagine if you’re a hardcore Shaw watcher like me, you’ll probably get a kick out of this; it’s like looking at something intensely familiar from a whole new perspective.
The action is more plentiful that I thought it might be, and it’s also surprisingly competent considering the five German leads had never acted in a kung fu movie before! They definitely aren’t without some wonky movements, but they all do a good enough job to allow the fun to multiply as the film moves into its action-packed finale. Dawn (Sonja Jeannine) is showcased the most and she must have had some dancing or martial arts experience, as she handles nice, consecutive kicks and sword slices with ease. Each girl also learned a fun special technique (such as hardening palms by hitting burning bricks, some kind of nail-driving technique trained by hitting a bed of nails, etc.), but unfortunately these techniques didn’t play too much of a role in the actual battles. I should be happy with all the crazy fun already packed into the movie instead of wishing for more, but I think the multiple instances of olive-seed spitting just whet my appetite for more of these weird, imaginative techniques.
Simon Chiu Yee-Ang handled the choreography, and while it’s mostly just flailing limbs, there are a few moments of pure brilliance mixed in. Almost all of these involve Wang Hsieh’s character and his incredible ponytail. How incredible is it? Well, can your ponytail grab someone in mid-air and fling them through a dilapidated building’s wall? Didn’t think so! This thing can even pull down an entire staircase! It’s pretty impressive, to say the least. Of course, I wanted more, but I’ll just have to settle with rewinding and watching these moments again and again. Yueh Hua gets some time to shine as well, but honestly he’s more like a glorified guest than a legitimate co-star. And for some reason, right after Wang Hsieh and Yueh Hua start to go at it, the fight is brought to a swift conclusion. Boo!
Regardless of the little issues I had here and there, Virgins of the Seven Seas is one hell of an entertaining exploitation picture. Watching the girls go from tied-up prisoners forced to eat raw sea snake guts, to powerful, kung-fu-trained warriors was a blast, although I can’t say that I’d recommend it to any kind of traditional audience. It’s a shame that only the German version exists, and that said version seems to be an edited version that runs 88 minutes (IMDB states runtimes ranging from 91–99 for this one, not that IMDB is a great resource for Asian film info). That being said, the German version is really fun to watch. The audio actually kind of fits the film’s weird tone, and the subtitles are a true work of comedic art. Highly recommended if you dig this sort of movie… you know who you are!
If you’re interested in reading more on Virgins of the Seven Seas, including more details on the wonderful, hilarious subtitles, Uncle Jasper’s review from Silver Emulsion’s early months is a great, worthwhile read!
Next up in this chronological journey through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is Ting Shan-Hsi’s rare film Well of Doom! I’m very intrigued by the title, so I hope it’s good. See ya then!