Temptress of a Thousand Faces
aka 千面魔女 aka Qian mian mo nu aka Temptress of 1000 Faces
Written by Song Jin
Directed by Jeng Cheong-Woh
This sexy Shaw Brothers crime caper has influences from the classic female-lead action films of yore, the 1960s Jane Bond films, James Bond, Eurospy, and even Fantomas! Temptress of a Thousand Faces meshes these sources all together into a terrific crime caper. One of those films where there are master thieves who can be anywhere and disguised as anyone. Even your mom! Okay, probably not your mom. Or is that just what they want you to think? You better call your mom an make sure, just in case. It’s the old master of disguise story, but with no need to worry about people being turtlely enough to join the turtle club. Because none of them are! Freaking lack of turtle love in Temptress of a Thousand Faces…
The big switch is this time the thief is a woman. The thief being female throws the entire police force for a loop, as everyone is looking for a male master thief. I’m not sure why, almost every crime shown involves women, maybe the police have all taken stupid pills. It’s girl power, but only sort of. Of course, only another woman can take her down. Further continuing the gender bending, the police officer hero is the female Ji Ying, while her boyfriend Yuk Dat plays the Torchy Blane role of reporter who is on the case. But unlike Torchy, Yuk Dat doesn’t contribute to the solving of the case, just becoming yet another chess piece to be played by the mastermind and the detective.
Temptress of a Thousand Faces was discussed before during our Infernal Brains episode covering the Jane Bond films. If you prefer your reviews in audio format, that’s your best bet, along with a whole history of the genre that won’t be repeated here. But if you love things written down, then feel free to read on! Or just look at the pretty pictures. Either way, hopefully you are convinced enough to track down a copy, because you will not be disappointed!
Temptress of a Thousand Faces has examples of the media influencing the villain. It’s interesting to see how the news before the 24 hour news cycle and the internet worked, and how that still produces media heroes. Of course, that’s not entirely new, there has been media criminal superstars since at least Charles Starkweather and Lizzie Borden. But it is still fun to see it play out the old school way, to see newspapers holding sway instead of just being a paywall that bloggers lift stories from (with a sentence or two of “commentary”), or a source of thousands of snarky jokes on Twitter that trivialize whatever tragedy is currently captivating the planet.
Temptress is the master thief that is terrorizing the rich inhabitants of the city. So brazen, she even leaves a calling card at her heists! Temptress empties vaults, impersonates rich women, leaves disappearing (and flammable!) ink on checks, and basically drives the police batty. Ji Ying directly challenges Temptress on television, the media exposure sparking Temptress’s interest in her. And like a kid with a new toy, Temptress has to take it out to play. Kidnapping Ji Ying, openly threatening her, a peacock-like display of her power. No one puts baby in the corner, nor puts Temptress in her place on TV!
The entire film is a mix of fantasy and reality from the animated opening to the world of high crimes. Temptress is constantly under disguise and no one is who they seem to be. Combine that with the fantasy world of extravagance and the quality cinematography of Shaw Brothers, and you get an atmosphere that seems surreal. The secret lair of The Temptress is a trippy dreamworld of psychedelic 60s excess insanity, an amazing place that is like James Bond humped Dr. Seuss and splattered babies all over the wall. It’s an underground lair with dancing ladies all around, guards dressed in black, and the Temptress clad like a Persian princess with her face partially obscured by a veil (ever mysterious!) Temptress smacks Ji Ying around and then spin her dizzy until she wakes up in her apartment. It seems so much like a dream, and is so trippy weird that had Temptress not given her a ring as proof, no one would have believed. I still don’t believe her, but then I have trust issues…
The lines between fantasy and reality get more blurred the closer Ji Ying gets to Temptress’s world. Temptress even kidnaps Ji Ying again and replaces her, setting out to ruin her life, frame her as a criminal, and make her man be unfaithful. At one point both real and fake Ji Ying battle it out, hapless Yuk Dat paralyzed by confusion.
Temptress is a strong woman who can do whatever she wants and makes powerful people dance around her. Her female empowerment is a result of her revenge fantasy against the rich and powerful men who used her as a plaything. She sees the men as criminals that don’t get caught because of their status and bank accounts (and to be fair, she’s right about some of them!) Despite all their resources, Temptress has complete control over these men, and she can only be undone by a fellow female. But even Ji Ying calls in the cavalry, and the Temptress ultimately falls at the hands of men. After all, we can’t have women being all powerful and not have them be destroyed for daring to dream!
The female empowerment angle is only there as a not-to-subtle subtext, because Temptress of 1000 Faces is still exploitation cinema in its heart. The film is filled to the brim with upskirt shots, crotch shots, shots focusing on the chests of the ladies (especially the dancing lady at the club), women running around half-naked, and chick fights. The sexualized girl power films of the late 60s and early 70s deserve a closer scrutiny, too bad several of them are very hard to find. Hopefully that will be rectified some day in the near future. For now, Temptress of 1000 Faces is a fun crime ride with amazing visuals and enough action packed it to make it appealing to a broad audience. It is a film that deserves a far bigger fan base than it has, so get started becoming a fan!
Rated 8/10 (Shaw, green with envy, angry man, realistic masks!, secret spy, crystal power, super secret time, the chief)
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