Saturday, 25 October 2008

I Racconti della camera rossa

Some of you are probably wondering what an apparent Hong Kong Category III film is doing in a blog about European exploitation cinema.

The answer lies in that title. It's not a translation from the Cantonese, but the original title. For Stories from the Red Chamber is actually an Italian production, being directed by Joe D'Amato / Aristide Massaccessi under yet another of his multitudinous pseudonyms, namely the made-in-Hong Kong sounding Robert Yip.

Note that 'Heijin Lab' is an Italian company

In interview Massaccessi freely admitted to copying the then-in vogue Sex and Zen films and hoping to pass it off as an authentic Hong Kong product. While those more knowledgeable about Italian or Hong Kong productions could probably identify the film as a counterfeit – where are the otherwise familiar Hong King cinema faces and names and who is hiding behind the pseudonyms being used? – one wouldn't be surprised if the casual viewer was taken in by the ruse.

Yet, I don't think it matters too much, since a number of the episodes presented, such as the man who disguises himself as a woman in order to infiltrate the master's house and then has his comeuppance when he discovers a hermaphrodite engaged in a similar kind of deception, or of the wife who is fitted with an locked chastity belt on the instructions of her untrusting husband before he goes away for a time, prove to be somewhat universal, the differences emerging more at the level of the costumes and setting.

Up the chastity belt

Indeed, for anyone more familiar with Italian exploitation of the 1970s than Hong Kong exploitation of the 1990s, the thing that the film may prove most reminiscent of is a Decamerotic. There is, after all, that same basic combination of bawdiness and earthiness juxtaposed with moral tale wrap up found in the likes of Ubalda: All Naked and Warm – a Fenech vehicle that tellingly also features a chastity belt scenario – and D'Amato's own Novelle licenziose di vergini vogliose / Le Mille e una notte di Boccaccio a Canterbury, the latter title also foregrounding the actual and purported literary origins of both the Italian and Hong Kong forms.

We can explain everything, honest...

The abundance of nudity and softcore fumblings amongst the Chinese-looking cast and corresponding absence of hardcore material and Europorn types further distinguishes the film from the bulk of the D'Amato's 1990s output, including – just to bring things full circle – the two Decameron Tales entries he lensed for frequent partner-in-porn Franco Lo Cascio a couple of years later.

As such, the film is also revealing of how far the tide was turning against the old-style of Italian exploitation film by this time, that Italian filmmakers were now seeking to imitate their Hong Kong counterparts rather than the other way around when we think of the likes of Tsui Hark's The Butterfly Murders and We are Going to Eat You.

This also extends to the soundtrack where Piero Montanari delivers a rather obvious and repetitive pseudo-Oriental synth based score; at least when Hong Kong filmmakers borrowed Morricone or Goblin cues and placed them in all sorts of unexpected places and contexts they were stealing something worthwhile.


Anonymous said...

I never thought of Tsui Hark as someone who tried to imitate Italian movies - We're going to eat you at least is clearly inspired by Amercian horror movies (and especially the Texas chainsaw massacre) and Hark has always admitted that he's a great admirer of Sam Raimi's work (and used the Evil Dead as a template for his Chinese Ghost Story films), but I really don't see a connection to European exploitation cinema.

K H Brown said...

It's been a while since I've watched any of Hark's films - the last one I saw was The Seven Swords, about two years ago - and I'd agree that A Chinese Ghost Story is more Raimi, just as Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain is Chinese fantasy inspired by Star Wars.

I do however remember seeing The Butterfly Murders as being described as a Hong Kong giallo somewhere, and may have heard Goblin in some of his early films, as part of that weird combination of music you get in a lot of HK films from the 70s and early 80s, like Jean Michelle Jarre in Drunken Master or Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (can't remember which offhand) and Neu in one of the Flying Guillotine films.

Thanks for your comments :-)

© Deliria said...

THE BUTTERFLY MURDERS is a nod to the wuxia mysteries of Gu Long, but for western critics,it is much more convenient to cite Italian thrillers,since that's what they are more familiar with.
Tsui's DANGEROUS ENCOUNTER also used Goblin and Jarre,but I doubt it was a hommage,more likely a cheap way to score a film.
Ronny Yu's copmovie THE SAVIOR(1980)incidentally has this shot of a HK-cinema billboard:

K H Brown said...

I must plead guilty as charged Deliria :-)

Nice blog you have - just wish I knew Hungarian

Keith said...

My god, the guy in the last screencap looks like a naked Chinese William Shatner. The nightmares, the nightmares...

Piero Montanari said...

I don't think that my music is obvious. It' s nice and fit for the movie, wich is a low-zero cost movie. This kind of "B", that was the soul of Tarantino's filmography, was copied by everyone, so my fantastic music!
Bye bye! Piero Montanari