How the Ape Girl Stole the Lotus Lamp (Review)
How the Ape Girl Stole the Lotus Lamp
There is a lot of old Chinese cinema. Many films were made in the post-war period based on plays, operas, folk tales, and old novels. There was also a bunch of original content created. These old films have handpainted backgrounds, origins in operas and classical tales, and were produced quickly and cheaply. That doesn’t stop many of them from being interesting. I am fond of old-style effects, goofy plots, and stylized action as long as the film remains interesting. And in between all the older love/opera/drama type stories, there is a large pocket of wuxia/swordplay movies just waiting to be discovered. Although the audience for these films was large long ago, nowadays few people are even aware of them. Older Chinese people know of the films, but most of them don’t watch them regularly anymore, and even fewer have websites on the internet. So any specific film backgrounds I can find is few and far between (or in the case of this film, almost non-existent!) Heck, there is no IMDB entry for this film (no surprise there), and even the often reliable Hong Kong Movie Database has the wrong English name for the film.
Tribute is paid to these classic movies in the film Kung Fu vs. Acrobatic, which even co-stars Walter Tso Tat-Wah, one of the stars here and dozens of other classic films. How the Ape Girl Stole the Lotus Lamp is a lucky pick grabbed from a Chinatown movie store based solely on the pictures on the back of the VCD, which included some kids dressed up like monkeys. I am happy to report there are crazy monkey children in the film, but there are also lots of other cool retro effects. Even if I didn’t have my wife there to translate the film for me I would have been entertained (although slightly more confused.) The VCDs for these old films have no subtitles (why would they? I am one of the few non-native Cantonese speakers who would watch these) so the best to hope for is lots of fun stuff happening on the screen.
The VCD case makes the presence of Josephine Siao Fong-Fong well known, though at the time this movie was released (1962) she hadn’t taken off into super-stardom (where her major competitor would be the other, bigger 1960’s Cantonese sweetheart Connie Chan – seen here in Lady Black Cat) so Josephine has a supporting role in this film. Josephine Siao would later become a major leading lady, and participate in many of the Jane Bond films of the late 1960s and even do many films with her “rival” Connie Chan. She first appeared in 1954 and two years later won the Best Child Actor award for Orphan Girl. Like Connie Chan, she also had an impressive output in the 1960s, but in 1969 she slowed down her acting to focus on education and marriage (to actor Charlie Chin, which lasted three months – she later remarried and had children) She later appeared on TV as the bumbling plain Jane character Lam Ah Shun in 1977, followed by three films (one of them was Plain Jane to the Rescue, directed by a young John Woo). She is probably best known to fans from the 1990s for her parts as Fong Sai Yuk’s mother in the Fong Sai Yuk films. See the Jane Bond article for more of her films.
Sek Kin is another major Hong Kong actor making a supporting role here. Usually Sek Kin played villains and evil men in his movie roles. He was the ultimate Hong Kong villain character actor for decades. Oddly enough, although his character is a jerk in several scenes in How the Ape Girl Stole the Lotus Lamp, he isn’t the villain, and ends up doing some pretty noble things near the end. It was sort of weird seeing Sek Kin as a non-bad guy, I have only seen him in a few films but he was always over the top evil. Bruce Lee chose him as the villain in Enter the Dragon. At the time of this writing Sek Kin was still alive and kicking at age 95! He is also in Lady Black Cat where he plays a more common evil villain role.
Fitting with Chinese films, the cast is enormous, so here are the major players listed out (that way we can get shoutouts to all the more obscure Chinese actors and actresses that probably have next to nothing written about them in English.)
The title screen is recreated due to print damage (I am guessing) and the film begins like many of these, right in the beginning. Four students (Mo Kwun-tin, Wong Kam-fung, Leung Yin-yuk, and Lam Kim-sing) are told by their sifu White-haired Nun that they must pass one final test before they have learned all their weapons skills and can go back home. They must defeat….Beast King! The Beast King is behind a door, and as the four smash their way through, you get a glimps of the goofiest gorilla costume I have seen! It is hilarious.
The four do whatever anyone does when you enter a room and see a gorilla – attack it with swords!!! Mo Kwun-tin tosses dirt in it’s eyes, and then they push him over. I don’t know if he is dead or just injured, but no one seems to care. White-haired Nun was even laughing at the spectacle, I guess she likes seeing innocent gorillas used as kung fu punching bags! Where is the Humane Society?
Gorilla in the midst
White-haired Nun gives special weapons to two of the group, but not to the other two. Totally unfair. The girl that doesn’t get a weapon is Leung Yin-yuk, and she steals knives off the wall as she leaves. Meanwhile, Yin Bing and her Sifu Taoist Priest White Ape hanging around a painting— I mean a cave that is in the shape of a dragon that is a totally real place and not a background painting. On the other side of the dragon cave, Taoist Priest White Ape shows her the monkey guards of the special plant called Tin Ling To that can heal people. These monkey guards are kids dressed as monkeys! Suddenly, the monkey children of Lady Iron Monkey makes a lot more sense!
Taoist Priest White Ape tells the lead monkey kid to give Yin Bing the special Ape Sword, which was forged by Ape Lincoln. Okay, there is no Ape Lincoln, unless you are Tim Burton. If you have the Ape Sword (which is given to Lin Bing), the monkeys will listen to you. Because it is….APE LAW!
Taoist Priest White Ape is going on vacation, because you don’t get much vacation time when you are a master of monkeys and have to pencil it in while you can. He departs, and Yin Bing waits for three whole seconds after he leaves to figure out hanging with a bunch of monkeys for a few months will be boring as heck, so she decides to go visit her family, and tells the monkeys to just chill until she gets back. The monkeys screech and jump around a lot. They all go bananas or something. Monkeys, never trust monkeys to do anything. I once tried to get a monkey to wash my car and all he did was throw poop at it. That didn’t get it clean.
Enough of monkeys or kids dressed as monkeys, let’s go to a restaurant run by the Leung brother, where a customer refuses to pay. Leung Brother is a sutterer and has buck teeth, but somehow runs over 100 noodle huts. Leung Brother’s sister Yin-yuk strolls in right at the customer yells something to the Leung Brother which probably translates to “I’ll kick your Neville Longbottom-looking butt because I ain’t paying!” Yin-yuk then grabs him and teaches him some manners. After the tearful reunion of siblings, the noodle hut gets some new customers, Sek Kin as Wong Yut-pao and his posse. They get all offended when Leung Brother doesn’t drop everything to serve them instantly, and start trouble. Leong Brother is busy burning things by the stone sign that marks the restaurant, but as Wong Yut-pao’s goons start trouble, Yin-yuk beats up all of his men. Wong Yut-pao is a bit better of a fighter, and deflects all of her attacks. Yin Bing and Mo Kwun-tin also arrive separately to watch the action. During the fight, at least one goon is tossed around like a rag doll, he even is a rag doll during the tossing sequence. Ah, old school effects. I miss them so. Wong Yut-pao proves he is strong by lifting the stone slab sign, but something is missing from the print as the slab is now broken in the next scene (WHAT??) Mo Kwun-tin then saves the day by re-carving the name of the restaurant on the broken slab…with his finger! The bad guys run off after seeing that feat.
Cousin Lam Kim-sing asks Wong Kam-fung to show off her knife skills, and she does on some candles. So that “you missed/no I didn’t, look it is cut in half!” stuff has been in movies at least this long. Her dad comes in…he is Wong Yut-pao! That will be awkward. And he is hurt, which is how Wong Kam-fung finds out her dad was injured in the noodle hut. He tells the story, and they find out Mo Kwun-tin is the guy Wong Kam-fung is in love with! Cousin stokes dad’s rage at this, because he is trying to marry her instead.
Back at the noodle hut, a note from Wong Kam-fung arrives for Mo Kwun-tin, asking to meet him. That’s also how we know Yin-yuk also likes Mo Kwun-tin, she is mad that he is leaving. Imagine his surprise when he gets there and finds out he just humiliated the dad of the girl he is crushing on. Dad says all is forgiven, invites him to sit in his chair…then pulls the surprise of the century by dropping a cage on him! All is not forgiven. Daughter Wong Kam-fung is upset at what dad is doing, but he just shoves her aside. What a great father!
Taunting Mo Kwun-tin will have to wait, because Mr. Mo is coming. He is another rich dude who works with Wong Yut-pao. He also happens to be Mo Kwun-tin’s dad, and walks in to see his son in a cage. D’oh! Dad is like “What the frak are you doing?” except he doesn’t say Frak, he says Chinese. Wong Yut-pao gets him out and starts backpeddling immediately. See, it was just a test to see if he can marry my daughter. Mo Kwun-tin goes along with it to smooth things over. Cousin Lam Kim-sing is ticked, and visits Yin-yuk to discuss how they can spoil the upcoming nuptuals so they can each marry the one they want. Yin Bing overhears their plans while she pretends to sleep. Lam King Sing and Leung Yin-yuk plot to steal the Lotus Lamp for reasons I can’t remember (my wife translated this part but I didn’t write it down because I thought I would remember…ha!) Yin Bing decides she’ll steal the lamp before they steal it.
The Lotus Lamp is in a hug tower guarded by a lot of dudes. What exactly it does isn’t that clear, but it has some pearls inside. And it is a lamp. Shaped like a lotus. Can’t you tell how useful that is? Wong Yut-pao and Mr. Mo are in charge of guarding it, and it is a wedding gift to be given to the Emperor’s mother. Cousin Lam Kim-sing and Yin Yuk wear robber masks to attack, but don’t bother to change their outfits at all! Since everyone wears the same style of clothes here it is impossible to not know it is them. Yin Bing meddles and ensures the two robbers are discovered, so Lam Kim-sing has to fight off the guards while Yin-yuk goes after the lamp. But Yin Bing climbs up and steals it first, replacing it with a fake lotus lamp. Where did she get a fake lotus lamp, the fake lotus lamp store? Wal-mart? In any event, Yin-yuk then steals the fake lamp, as Lam Kim-sing kills countless guards. The two theives escape, then Lam Kim-sing punches Yin-yuk and steals the (fake) lotus lamp for himself.
An even higher ranking official arrives to yell at Mr. Mo and Wong Yut-pao, you know he is higher up because his headress is completely ridiculous. It looks like he has a bunch of tribbles dangled on springs up there. As Yin-yuk comes home crying, Yin Bing shows her the real lotus lamp. Cousin Lam Kim-sing shows the (fake) lamp to Wong Yut-pao, and demands to marry Wong Kam-fung or he will smash it. Her dad relents, because otherwise the Emperor will have them killed for letting the lotus lamp get ruined. But first they must check to see if it is the real one…it’s not! Egg on Lam Kim-sing’s face!
Mo Kwun-tin shows up at the Yin household to talk to Yin-yuk, trying to see if they have the real lamp. Yin Bing shows the Lotus Lamp, but she also threatens to smash it. Mo Kwun-tin has to charm Yin Yuk, but Cousin Lam Kim-sing and Wong Kam-fung are overhearing the conversation. Wong Kam-fung bursts in all miffed, and soon Yin Bing is drawing a sword on her. The two girls spar over the objections of the others. Never get in the way of an angry Chinese woman. Lam Kin-sing runs in during all the commotion and ganks the lamp. Mo Kwun-tin is accidentally hit by a knife during the fight to capture Lam Kim-sing and is injured, while Cousin Lam Kim-sing runs off into the forest. My favorite part is when it is night and then suddenly day, and then night again.
Lam Kim-sing fools around with the lamp and soon it is flying him through the air. Taoist Priest White Ape spots him flying, and starts teleporting around to follow him. Taoist Priest White Ape calls the lead monkey (Mo-Mo is his name) and gives orders to get the lamp. Mo-mo attacks Lam Kim-sing and the lamp falls down a chasm where there are skeletons. Cousin Lam Kim-sing falls down as well, dies, turns into a goofy skeleton, and then back into a human. The Narrator tells us that he was reincarnated with “White skull driven reincarnated.” My wife had no idea what that meant.
Taoist Priest White Ape grabs the now disoriented Lam Kim-sing and the lotus lamp right after. Lam Kim-sing gives Taoist Priest White Ape the lotus lamp, which he no longer cares about. Lam Kim-sing pledges support to Taoist Priest White Ape (who wouldn’t) and Mo-Mo takes him back to Taoist Priest White Ape’s home. Taoist Priest White Ape decides to polish the lamp right outside the noodle hut the Leung family owns, so Yin Bing both sees the lamp and has to hide from her Sifu. She tells her sister Yin-yuk and then makes a break for the mountaintop where she should have been hanging out. Yin-yuk also finds out Mo Kwun-tin is sick from the injury he got and might die. By now, Yin Bing has snuck back up the mountain with the monkeys, and Taoist Priest White Ape sees her there when he checks.
Yin Bing won’t be just hanging out with monkeys for long, as several other characters head up the mountain and through the dragon cave to get the magic plant to save Mo Kwun-tin, including Wong Yut-pao who is now very committed to saving his future son-in-law. See, Sek Kin is playing a halfway decent guy for once, he was just a jerk in the beginning and not a supervillain. The first person in the group to reach the monkeys is Wong Kam-fung, which causes Yin Bing to try to fight her with swords again. Monkeys scream and hop up and down during the action. They flip around and generally act like monkeys. The rest of the group convines Yin Bing to let them have the plant, so Yin Bing orders Mo-mo to go get it (he has to listen because she has the Ape Sword, remember?) The plant is rubbed on Mo Kwun-tin, and then Yin Bing tells them there is a shortcut on the other side, so everyone swings over a vine to go in the shortcut (the Leung Brother has a devil of a time trying to swing on a vine correctly, he ends up getting helped by the monkeys.)
Inside the shortcut, it is really a house where Taoist Priest White Ape and Cousing Lam Kim-sing are waiting for them in a room with a bunch of treasures on the wall. A bunch of bows and arrows, some shields with monster faces painted on them, these are treasures on the wall. Yin Bing has to explain herself, and all of them trade words until Taoist Priest White Ape says they have to face The 12 Great Treasures!
Who are ninjas!
With black hoods!
This film just keeps giving! They fight all over the place. We got massive cool swordifghting action in Cantonese opera style. Sek Kin has dual swords before it was cool, Yin Bing swordfights Lam Kim-sing, and the Leung Brother hides behind one of the monster sheilds. A lot of stuff happens. Eventually, all of the 12 Great Treasures are defeated, so Taoist Priest White Ape shows them the Lotus Lamp. It is safely in a room that is booby trapped. No one can get in to get it.
It looks like hope is lost until White-haired Nun shows up to deus ex machina an ending. She steps in and grabs the Lotus Lamp, and then yells at Lam Kim-sing for being a possessed dead person and not her student.
Back in the city, the Official with the Tribble Headdress is pleased, and so is everyone else in the movie since no one is going to be executed now. The two guardians Mr. Mo and Wong Yut-pao even get a reward! They give the ereward to their kids as a wedding present, but the two kids then give the rewards to the Leung sisters as compensation since they are still miffed over the love triangle thing. Brother Leung has something written on the back of his clothes (hooray for a joke that goes over my head since I can’t read that Chinese word) and the movie ends!
Rated 8/10 (Magic Plant, Solid Stone, Strong Fingers, Lights out!, Peek-a-Siao, Shock and awe, Ape Sword Power, Monkeys are crazy!)