The Singing Thief [大盜歌王] (1969)
Starring Jimmy Lin Chung, Lily Ho Li Li, Lo Lieh, Essie Lin Chia, Mui Yan, Chu Gam, Yee Kwan, Nam Wai-Lit, Man Lei, Au-Yeung Gwong, Yip Dung-Ching
Directed by Chang Cheh
Expectations: I really don’t know what to expect. Not much.
Well, this one certainly blew whatever expectations I had out of the water! Having taken wuxia to the highest heights he thought it could reach at the time with his previous film Golden Swallow, Chang Cheh sought to liberate himself from the standard Shaw Brothers cycle of constantly making wuxia pictures one after another. Instead he turned his attention to musicals of all things, and the resulting effort is The Singing Thief. Don’t be fooled by the title though, it’s not really a musical in the traditional sense.
The story of The Singing Thief revolves around Diamond Poon, a reformed diamond thief who’s now known for his wonderful singing voice. He works in a nightclub run by his good buddy Fu and he’s content to keep his life simple. Someone else has a different life path in mind for Poon though, as a new thief in town is accurately impersonating his trademarks and making everyone think that Poon’s up to his old tricks. He could be, and the mystery of just who is stealing everyone’s jewelry is one of the best parts of the film. In some ways it reminded me of The Big Lebowski, where an innocent dude gets mixed up in a sea of people all out to get him and play him for their own interests, but realistically that foundational story has its roots in places far older than The Big Lebowski, such as Dashiell Hammett’s groundbreaking 1929 novel Red Harvest (itself a huge influence on film, particularly on the work of Akira Kurosawa & Sergio Leone).