Director: Meng Hua Ho
Screenplay: Meng Hua Ho
Starring: Ching Lee, Feng Chin, Peng Peng, Hsiung Chao, Peng-Fei Li, Dean Shek, Hoi Mang
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 104 min
BBFC Certificate: 12
When you hear the name Shaw Brothers you instantly think of action packed period kung-fu movies with fairly lavish production design and yes, much of their output was of this genre and style. However, they were known to venture out into a variety of genres. They turned their hands to horror quite often for instance, as well as a brief foray into the kaiju genre with The Super Inframan. In their 88 Asia range, 88 Films have been exploring this variety of material, particularly the horror titles as those fit with the label’s more typical releases. However, I was still surprised by their latest Shaw Brothers disc, The Human Goddess, a romantic fantasy musical comedy.
The film begins with a group of seven Goddesses up on their cloud preparing for their mother’s birthday. The Seventh Sister (Ching Lee/Li) is looking down to Earth though and longs to experience life and particularly love down there. So she decides to run off and give it a try. Setting down in Hong Kong, she soon comes face to face with the ugly side of life – con-men, thieves and other assorted low-lifes. She doesn’t quite understand the consequences of their behaviour though and finds it all fascinating and amusing as she uses her magic powers to mess around with the hapless humans.
Seventh Sister begins to learn more about the importance of being good and righteous however when she bumps into Dong (Feng Chin). He and Bull (Peng Peng) run an orphanage which is running into financial difficulties. Times are so tough in fact that the orphanage is put up for auction and the wealthy Xu Cai Fa (Peng-Fei Li) buys it up because his girlfriend wants the space for the good feng shui. Seventh Sister steps in to help, not only for the orphans but for Dong, who she has her eye on largely because he reminds her of a love from long ago. Dong doesn’t reciprocate at first, partly because he’s troubled by the problems he’s having, but also, because of a misunderstanding early on, he thinks she’s a prostitute.
As well as being an odd choice of title for 88 Films and the Shaw Brothers, it’s an odd film in general. Tonally it’s a bit of a mixed bag. There’s a family friendly feel to the light musical numbers and fantasy angle, but there’s a seedy side to it too. Seventh Sister is often accosted by lecherous men and there are two scenes that involve date rape drugging. Alongside this odd combination, you’ve got a lot of social commentary on the state of Hong Kong at the time through all the dodgy goings on that Seventh Sister comes across and initially doesn’t understand. This comment on real life is offset by the magical touches and campy scenes of flying cars and such.
I guess it’s all part of the oddball charm though. Speaking of charm, the real reason to watch the film is Ching Lee. She’s totally adorable and a pleasure to watch. The film is largely quite episodic and feels about 10 minutes too long, so isn’t the most engaging I’ve seen, but Lee makes it all palatable through her delightful charisma and irresistible good looks.
Also trying to hold your attention through the fairly lightweight film are the musical numbers. These are nothing to write home about and lack the elaborate choreography of their Hollywood counterparts, but the tunes are pleasantly catchy and Lee’s got a nice voice. There is a little kung fu action thrown in at times too – this is the Shaw Brothers after all!
The film looks great, with the production design team doing as good a job with this contemporary setting as they do with their more common period films. There’s plenty of bold colour on display and the typical Shawscope wide frame is nicely utilised.
Overall then, it’s a mildly amusing oddity that will likely puzzle many fans of the Shaw Brothers and 88 Films, but it has enough charm to win over the hard-hearted. It’s worth a spin, even if it’s not a mind-blowing lost gem.
The Human Goddess is out now on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by 88 Films, or you can order it now from their website – https://88-films.myshopify.com/ The Blu-Ray looks and sounds great. The picture is clean and detailed but still natural-looking.
There are no special features on the disc, but this early limited edition includes an enjoyable booklet written by Calum Waddell which helps you better appreciate the film and where it was coming from.