November 3, 2015 – 5:21 am

If only the filmmakers had spent more time coming up with more ingenious sex toys in Lai Kai Ming’s Ancient Chinese Whorehouse (1994). As it is, leave it to the eels to do the dastard deed. Stephen Tan reviews.

The years between 1988 and 1999 were considered the golden age of Hong Kong Category III movies, with Michael Mak’s Sex And Zen (1991) being a watermark, grossing over HK$18 million. By 1994, Lai Kai Ming’s Ancient Chinese Whorehouse could only garner HK$2.5 million.

By then, there were already many Sex And Zen immitations, and filmmakers were running out of ideas how to lure in the crowds with Cat III movies. Ancient Chinese Whorehouse is one of them, and it is very likely modelled after Bosco Lam’s successful A Chinese Torture Chamber Story (1994).

Like Sex And Zen, Ancient Chinese Whorehouse had Kent Cheng and Elvis Tsui from the earlier movie but they were never the main draw. Instead of the former’s Amy Yip and Carrie Ng, the latter had Yvonne Yung (who had appeared earlier in The Chinese Torture Chamber Story) and Ching Suet-ngan.

The destitute Siu-Ching (Ching Suet-ngan) has no choice but to join a brothel run by Fifth Mistress (Yvonne Yung) in order to pay off her debts. Ching tries to run away but is caught and tortured into submission. Taking a page from the Japanese movies, a naked Ching is dumped into the “magic cup” - a tub of water filled with eels. To agitate the eels, the water is slowly heated up. Ching finally agrees.

To prepare her first night, she drinks an aphrodisiac which leaves her wanting more sex after she finishes with her client. Ching ends up having sex with Ah Yat, an assistant to Kang, the in-brothel inventor. Kang’s job is to come up with various sex toys for the brothel’s customers. Toys might be too much - more like machines and contraptions, such as a push-cart offering that to-and-fro movement for sex; or a ulalating bed (called The Tai Chi Bed); or wooden stands that allow for sex in various positions. While Ching falls in love with Ah Yat, it is Kang who has always longed for Fifth Mistress. To overcome her loneliness, Fifth Mistress brings along a large dildo when she takes a bath!

Meanwhile, a rapist is on the prowl and he tries to kidnap Ching. Fifth Mistress shows up and eventually castrates the rapist. It turns out that the rapist is a prince and, to avoid troubles, Fifth Mistress gives her girls their freedom and even finds love when Kang gives her a going-over using the various sex toys in the house.

By now, nudity - in the form of topless women - is already a given in Cat III movies. Sex, as in penetration, is judiciously shown - usually covered up or hidden. The little leeway in Ancient Chinese Whorehouse is that one of the women’s pubic hair is partially shown and, even that, it belongs to a European woman who had opened her own competing brothel but finds Ah Yat too much of a lover for her. The sex scene between the European woman and Ah Yat might have worked on paper. Somehow the scene falls flat - probably because of the use of a giant chicken (which throws subtlety out the window) which the couple use while having sex. (”Chicken” is also a Cantonese slang for a hooker.)

The “wow” moment in Ancient Chinese Whorehouse is not the nudity or the sex but the dunking of Ching in the tub filled with eels. For the squeamish, even the thought of being placed naked in the tub with the eels is shuddering. Again, the scene lacks any punch or even angst as it isn’t anything like in Kazuo “Gaira” Komizu’s Rusted Body (1987), where there are shots of the eels slithering around the person’s crotch. Ancient Chinese Whorehouse has the form and look but not the devastating effect.

Apart from the eye candy provided by both Ching Suet-ngan and Yvonne Yung, the film is enlivened by Kent Cheng with his witty delivery but overall, Lai Kai Ming’s film is just barely able to rise from the bottom of the barrel. Some lame comedy is provided by the top-heavy Yuen King-tan. For one of those listless nights.

Note: The Ancient Chinese Whorehouse DVD is banned in $ingapore.

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