Chinatown Capers (1974)

ChinatownCapers_1Chinatown Capers [小英雄大鬧唐人街] (1974)
AKA The Chinese Enforcers, Back Alley Princess in Chinatown

Starring Polly Shang-Kuan Ling-Feng, Samuel Hui Koon-Kit, Sylvia Chang Ai-Chia, Don Wong Tao, Idemura Fumio, Pamela Pak Wan-Kam, Melvin Wong, Wong Sam

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Low. I didn’t like the first one.

twostar


Chinatown Capers was a big box office hit in Hong Kong when it was released. This is a little hard for me to understand, considering the strength of some of the films that didn’t do nearly as well, but that’s the way these things go. Successful mainstream fluff will often fades as time passes, while artistic work generally stays potent and powerful. And it’s hardly a stretch to call this film pure fluff. Like the first film, Back Alley Princess, it’s highly episodic and without much of a story. It works better in Chinatown Capers, perhaps because the culture clash brought on by the setting makes the film more entertaining and relatable to Western viewers such as myself.

You could easily watch Chinatown Capers without having seen Back Alley Princess. Honestly, the only benefit is already being familiar with the main duo of Chili Boy (Polly Shang-Kuan Ling-Feng) and Embroidered Pillow (Samuel Hui Koon-Kit), so you know what kind of movie you’re in for. None of the other characters return, because they’re all back in Hong Kong. Yes, Chili Boy and Embroidered Pillow have flown to San Francisco to… I don’t know… I guess they got tired of Hong Kong! The actual reason they’ve arrived in the US isn’t mentioned until much later (that’s the “story” I mentioned), but it doesn’t matter for my purposes here.

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Back Alley Princess (1973)

BackAlleyPrincess+1973-4-bBack Alley Princess [馬路小英雄] (1973)

Starring Polly Kuan, Samuel Hui Koon-Kit, Lau Wing, Angela Mao, Lee Kwan, Tien Feng, Wang Lai, Tong Ching, Carter Wong, Wu Jia-Xiang, Han Ying-Chieh, Fung Ngai, Huang Chung-Hsin

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Hmm?

onehalfstar


Back Alley Princess feels like one of those movies that was popular in its day, but it’s hard for a modern viewer to see exactly why. It’s an odd mix of a light comedic tone, heavy drama involving a prostitution ring, and some martial arts action… none of which are of quality enough to stand on their own. Ordinarily a multi-genre film like this might have a story that strings it all together, but in the case of Back Alley Princess that didn’t seem to be too high of a priority (which is somewhat odd, because Lo Wei generally packs a lot of story twists and turns into his scripts).

What Back Alley Princess is full off is a whole lot of working-class strife. Chili Boy (Polly Kuan) — AKA Hot Pepper Kid in some translations — and Embroidered Pillow (Samuel Hui) are a team of con-men doing whatever they can to make a few bucks and survive on the streets of Hong Kong. This leads them to meet up with the martial arts troupe of Teacher Chiang (Tien Feng), who agrees to join up with Chili and Embroidered Pillow in the interest of making more money. But this isn’t really the foundation of a story, as the film’s main concern is seemingly to endear Chili Boy to the audience so Lo Wei can drive the point home how important family and community are to the individual.

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