Black Rose (Review)
aka Hei mei gui aka 黑玫瑰
Directed by Chor Yuen
Written by Hoh Bik-Gin
Welcome to a trip to some classic Cantonese cinema. Not only are we going to review Black Rose, but we’ll be hitting the sequel, The Spy With My Face, as well as one entry from the 1990’s, and an eventual rewrite of our review of Protege De La Rose Noire. Yes, that previous sentence will get edited as the other reviews appear here. Eventually. Maybe.
Black Rose was basically the beginning of the Jane Bond films. It did not start the strong female character/super hero genre, but popularized it to the point where Black Rose is known as the standard bearer of the genre. This blog entry going over some of the wonderful films featured on the SoftFilm blog features a cornucopia of films with strong female leads.
Connie Chan Po-Chu was born in 1947 and is the daughter of two Beijing opera stars (Chan Fei-nung and Kung Fan-hung) She was not only trained in classical opera style (specializing in male roles) but also trained in both Southern and Northern martial arts styles. Connie made her film debut in 1959’s The Scout Master, and became a breakout star in the 1960s. Her last film was 1972’s The Lizard (also her only film for Shaw Brothers and one of the few that still survives in color, The Spy With My Face was filmed in color even if it doesn’t seem to have survived that way.)
Unlike her fellow teen queen Josephine Siao, Connie Chan stepped out of the limelight after her retirement, though she does emerge from time to time in stage presentations on TV (much to the excitement of my in-laws, who spend a frightenly long time trying to capture just her performance from a TV special onto a DVDR despite barely knowing how to turn the computer on.) More information on Connie Chan can be found on Movie Fan Princess. The site is run by duriandave of SoftFilm, who also supplied me with the vcds used to review the two Black Rose films. Check her out in action in Lady Black Cat and The Furious Buddha’s Palm.
Nam Hung was born as Su Manmei. Her mother and sister were also stage actresses, but I don’t think they were in films. The stage name Nam Hung means “fame of the south”. She began stage performing in 1950 and moved to films in 1953. She set up the Rose Film Company in 1962 with future husband Chor Yuen (also the director of this film) She starred in many Chor Yuen and Chan Wan films, and was a coproducer of Black Rose and its sequel. She was also in the original House of 72 Tenants, which was remade and then both inspired Steve Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle. Nam Hung moved to tv in 1976.
Director Chor Yuen was born in 1934 as Cheung Bo-kin, the son of Cheung Wood-yau, a Cantonese cinema actor. After studying chemistry in college, Chor Yuen joined the cinema world, first as a screenwriter (under pen name Chun Yu) and then worked as assistant director to Chun Kim. His directorial debut was The Natural Son in 1959. He helmed all sorts of films over the years. Notable films include 1963’s Tear-laden Rose, 1968’s Winter Love, and 1968’s Young, Pregnant and Unmarried, a comedy capitalizing on the youth craze in Hong Kong (also starring Connie Chan). Chor Yuen joined Cathay in 1969 and started focusing on wuxia films. Then he moved to Shaw Brothers in 1971. Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan was one of his films there (he later remade it as Lust For Love Of A Chinese Courtesan) Besides the Rose Film Company with Nam Hung, Chor Yuen formed his own company Ligao Film in 1985
Patrick Tse Yin is probably best known to Western film fans as the evil guy in Shaolin Soccer, but he was a huge star in Cantonese film in the 1960s and is a pretty cool dude and leading man. But for people like me who were first exposed to him playing a jerk, we will always have that image stuck in the back of our minds when we see him play good guys. Patrick Tse Yin is the father of Nicholas Tse (seen here with his wife Cecilia Cheung in The Promise.)
The Black Rose series of films goes like so: The 1960’s had the first two entries, Black Rose and The Spy With My Face/Who is That Rose? in 1966. Then there was nothing until a revival in the 1990’s with homage films that are basically love stories to 1950s and 1960s Cantonese cinema. There are three films in this set, 1992’s 92 Legendary La Rose Noire (written and directed by Jeff Lau), 1993’s Rose, Rose, I Love You (directed by Jacky Pang and produced by Jeff Lau), and 1997’s Black Rose 2 (directed by Jeff Lau and Corey Yuen Kwai). The series was recently revived as a vehicle for the pop duo The Twins in 2004 for Protege de la Rose Noire. I doubt there will be any direct sequels to this due to the whole Edison Chen sex photo scandals which enveloped Twin Gillian Chung in its tentacles when she showed up naked online. Teresa Mo was the Black Rose in Protege, continuing the loose connections between the films (she was one of the apprentice Roses in 92 Legendary La Rose Noire.)
The VCDs we watched were without English subtitles, but we don’t need no stinking subtitles! And my lovely wife translated. So take that, not released on DVD film!
Black Rose robs from the rich and drops off money to the poor. We see her do such things during the opening credits, in case any of you had any doubts. Note the safe Black Rose is robbing is from Diebold and how easy it is to break into. And they control the US election machines!
The actual movie starts at a costume gala ball with Hong Kong’s upper elite in attendance with masks and all that crap those costume balls are known for. The man dancing with Chan Mei-ling inquires upon the whereabouts of her sister, Chan Mei-yi. Just then, Black Rose enters the dance hall, freaking everyone out and having the cops rush over to arrest her! Except it isn’t Black Rose, it is Chan Mei-yi, who came in full costume! Everyone has a good laugh, even Lee, who just happened to have the super valuable Blue Diamond on him because he was afraid Black Rose would steal it. Then the lights go out for a few seconds, and when they are turned on, the Blue Diamond is stolen, and Lee only has a black rose in its place!
The police freak, everyone panics, and investigations investigate. They find nothing, and no clue of the blue diamond or black Rose. Back at home, Lee reveals that he conned the whole thing as an insurance scam! Except..Black Rose is outside the window! With a gun! She knows he conned them, so she has come to steal the diamond she is being falsely accused of stealing, anyway! Lee at first tries to deny it, but reveals the diamond hidden in his shoe when pressed. Black Rose leaves with a warning to Lee to stop being a bad man (There are rumors of him being involved in the drug trade.)
Black Rose returns home, we get to see the secret vault where all the jewels and money is kept, then she retires to her room and removes her mask…we see it is Chan Mei-yi! Her sister Chan Mei-ling is getting ready to go out and distribute money to the poor while also dressed up as Black Rose. Yes, both girls are Black Rose.
Mei-ling goes out and starts dropping the money off, but soon runs across a gang of dudes harassing a girl. Black Rose demands they stop, and the gang soon circles Black Rose and starts talking smack. They do everything in a rhythmic fashion and it reminds me of the Jets from Westside Story. Except this time Maria is going to kick all of their butts! And she does. Black Rose can jump super high straight up and use objects nearby to beat up dudes. I’m so pretty indeed…
Back at the Chan sisters’ place, the local single rich dudes are there wooing Chan Mei-yi (along with several who are already married but looking for wife number 2 or 3.) Insurance investigator Cheung Man-fu arrives to investigate about the stolen blue diamond. Cheung starts looking around and asking the same questions the cops asked everyone when the phone rings. One of the suitors has a call from his two wives (This guy has two young wives named Seven and Eight, and he’s trying to marry Chan Mei-yi I guess to make her be Chan Nine. If that had happened I could have made a Chan Nine From Outer Space joke! but it didn’t happen so I didn’t make the joke, so you didn’t read it here.) The wives say they got a letter from Black Rose saying his Jade statuette of a lion will be stolen at midnight.
As an aside, Chan Mei-yi and Chan Mei-ling are super-rich young independent socialite girls, why in the world would either one agree to be wife number nine of some sleazy guy? The delusions of old men…
The cops come and will set up a sting with literally hundreds of cops lying in wait. Aren’t there any murders they need to solve in Hong Kong? Oh, wait, rich people are getting robbed, I guess that is more important than murders. Small problem (besides the bickering wives Seven and Eight – let’s not make a “lay them straight” joke because it is dirty…) is that the Statue Owner starts scratching himself. Like really scratching. Some sort of allergic reaction. The doctor comes and bandages him all up like a mummy, then the cops lie and wait. Bandages stop itching now?
Black Rose is seen sneaking around outside, and the cops all go to run and chase. Except the one cop who is left behind. This cop gets more than he bargained for when the bandaged statue owner turns out to be Black Rose in mummy disguise! The other Black Rose the cops were chasing instead leads them to the tied up Statue Owner in a barn. By the time the cops return Black Rose is gone and so is the jade statue! Fooled again!
Inspector Cheung remembers that the statue owner mentioned the only food he ate that day was at the Chan sisters’ house, so he is convinced they are involved somehow. He shall solve this theory…by being a peeping tom! Yes, Insurance inspector Cheung starts peeping through Chan Mei-yi’s windows and sees her removing a black shirt, and instantly goes to get the cops to have her arrested. One would think he would be the one arrested.
By now Chan Mei-ling has come home from distracting the cops, and Chan Mei-yi shows her the jade statue. She also says they aren’t going to sell it, she stole it to help preserve Chinese culture. But cop sirens blare as they sit in the lair alert them to the police arriving (why did the cops use the sirens, again?) and Chan Mei-yi exits the lair to answer the door. She lets the cops and insurance Inspector Cheung in and allows them to look around. She easily explains off the Black Rose costume she was seen in as it being the one she wore the day before at the party. But then Cheung asks where Chan Mei-ling is. We have some tension as we don’t know if Chan Mei-ling managed to sneak back into her room, but it is revealed she did, even if she has her nightshirt over her Black Rose costume. The police leave disappointed and the girls ponder their close shave.
They realize Inspector Cheung will continue to hound them, so they decide to mess with him. In his office, he gets a call to look out his window. Outside, someone in a zoot suit is spray-painting arrows for Cheung to follow. He does, and the arrows lead into a house in the middle of the woods. There, he is confronted by Chan Mei-yi who manages to get his gun. His insurance investigator skills are then used to kung fu the gun back to him, but by then Chan Mei-yi has managed to remove all of the bullets. Her and her sister tell Investigator Cheung to get out of town. He says he will. That was easy.
The next day Cheung is packing to leave on the train. He hails a cab, but the cab doesn’t go to the train station. Instead, Chan Mei-yi is driving and takes Cheung to the woods to tell him one last thing. She explains why they rob from the rich – they are the daughters of circus performers who were harassed by corrupt rich bosses and eventually killed, so they use their circus skills to punish the rich. Inspector Cheung says there are lots of good rich people and they shouldn’t do that, but Chan Mei-yi disagrees. She does give him back the blue diamond, and Chan Mei-ling, who was in the trunk and is listening in, figures out that Chan Mei-yi likes him. Chan Mei-yi gives Inspector Cheung the cab to drive to the station, and takes her own car home.
Chan Mei-ling is still in the trunk of the cab as Investigator Cheung drives off, first to Mr. Lee’s house to give him back his blue diamond. But when he does give him back the blue diamond, Mr. Lee captures Investigator Cheung and starts to beat him up to find out the true identity of Black Rose. Chan Mei-ling sees all of this, and runs to go get her sister.
The Chan sisters plan a rescue. They both go in Black Rose costume, while Investigator Cheung is being whipped by Mr. Lee and refusing to give up the identities. The Black Roses start causing trouble, both of them armed, and at first Mr. Lee and his goons don’t even know there are two of them. They start to get on Lee’s nerves as he can’t do anything to stop them, his men are helpless.
They throw rocks and sew confusion, then both descend with guns drawn and capture the villains, rescue Cheung, and the police arrive just then as the girls disappear and Mr. Lee takes the fall for being Black Rose in addition to all his other bad things the cops just now decide to arrest him for. Then all of the cops leave Mr. Lee’s house unattended so the Chan sisters can escape. Good thing scores of cops just leave the scene of a crime seconds after they arrest everyone and don’t even corner it off or anything.
Investigator Cheung gets a commendation for his help, but he still leaves town on a train. He does admit that he was wrong and not all rich people are good, so suck it, rich people! So he leaves on a train and that is that.
Considering the hype and the love heaped upon the Black Rose films, I was surprised that the original entry here is so simple. It is obvious the budget wasn’t stellar at all, but it showed how much you can do with a small budget and make your film appear larger in scope. The second film is a radical change in film style, budget, and influence, but we’ll talk about that in the review of The Spy With My Face.
Rated 7/10 (Fake stolen, too rich to settle for eight wives, totally inconspicuous, lipstick blood, go bye-bye!, another rich suitor, yet another rich suitor)