Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Nu ji zhong ying (1973)

... aka: Bamboo House of Dolls, The
... aka: Bamboo Women's Prison

Directed by:
Chih-Hung Kuei


In 1971, producer Roger Corman and director Jack Hill had a big hit on their hands with the women-in-prison exploiter THE BIG DOLL HOUSE. The film was shot in the Philippines on a modest budget and its mix of sex, violence and sadism packed drive-ins and grindhouse cinemas around the world and ended up turning a huge profit. Corman would go on to produce a number of similar films immediately afterward; WOMEN IN CAGES (1971), THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972) and THE HOT BOX (1972) being the first few out of the chute. The pinnacle of the craze usually considered Jonathan Demme's CAGED HEAT (1974), which would go on to become a cult classic. As the decade wore on, other filmmakers from around the world followed suit to try to cash in, and the films themselves became increasingly more tasteless. In Canada, there was the notorious ILSA series, which began in 1974 and starred Dyanne Thorne as a sadistic Nazi commandant who delights is sexually torturing her female inmates. These films led to a boom in Nazi prison camp torture movies, which were especially popular in Italy. Another chief contributor to the subgenre was director Jesus Franco, who made around ten women-in-prison films produced in both Spain and Switzerland. And then there's Bamboo House of Dolls from Hong Kong; a Shaw Brothers Production heavily influenced by the Corman films.

Bamboo is pretty interesting in many different ways; it actually predates (and thus possibly influenced) the first Ilsa film in its concentration camp setting by a year, it's a bit more sadistic than what Corman was churning out at the time, it's set during World War II and it features three Caucasian actresses in lead roles (something not too common in Hong Kong cinema at the time). It's also very entertaining if you like these kind of things.

As the film opens, Japanese soldiers invade a Chinese hospital and start shooting the place up. After gunning down several dozen people (including women and children), the soldiers are instructed to round up the remaining women and take them to "The 13th Women's Concentration Camp." Amongst the women are three American Red Cross nurses; blonde-haired, blue-eyed tough cookie Jennifer (Birte Tove, a Danish soft-corn actress), the more demure and innocent Mary (Roska Rozen) and large-breasted nympho Elizabeth (Niki Wane). The soldiers also manage to snuff out a rebel and drag his wife, Yu-Lan (Hoi-Suk Lee), off to the camp as well. Immediately upon arriving, the women are given ripped t-shirts and panties to wear and are subjected to various tortures at the hands of sadistic Commander Inoue (Hsieh Wang), his equally evil lesbian head guard Mako (Terry Liu) and the dozens of guards and soldiers that populate the place. The prisoners are frequently slapped, kicked and pushed down, have their hair pulled and get killed at any sign of disobedience. During their first day there, the ladies get to see a woman whipped to death and another get fried when she tries to escape over the electrified barbed wire fence surrounding the place.

If things couldn't get any worse, the women are also forced into becoming sex slaves to entertain the troops. During a long rape montage, we get to see each of the ladies manhandled. An innocent blind girl named Hu Lizhu has her legs sliced up with a sword and is forced to walk on broken glass before getting thrown down on the glass and raped. Mary - who has been singled out by the alpha lesbian of the place - is pinned down by two guards and raped by Mako (who has a special strap-on for such occasions). Jennifer (who the commander has a thing for) and Yu-Lan are also slapped around and raped. As for Elizabeth... Well, she just get enough of it. And therein lies a major problem with this film, and that's tone. It's virtually impossible to laugh at Elizabeth tossing off her unsatisfactory lovers after we've just seen dead-serious scenes of women being abused and viciously killed. Yes, there's so much pain, screaming, crying and all-around misery to go around this place that even an out-of-nowhere food fight couldn't even make me smile.

The film also abruptly switches gears at around the mid-way point. After a first half dedicated almost entirely to death, torture and wall-to-wall T&A, the second half mostly lays off the sexploitation and goes the action movie route. Yu-Lan (suffering from a case of temporary amnesia after being struck in the head one too many times) was told the whereabouts of some hidden gold bars before being apprehended. There are two male alliances in the camp (both posing as guards) willing to risk their lives to help Yu-Lan escape and locate the treasure. Yu-Lan insists five of her friends; the three nurses, the blind girl and a student named Wang Xia (Hsia-ying Lo), come along. Their first escape is botched and they find themselves tied down to stakes in the heat and denied water for days. Their second attempt, with help from a man named Cui Guodong (Lo Lieh) is more successful and the rest of the film follows him and the ladies as they brave the wild to reach the gold while a bunch of soldiers try to track them down. Amongst the women there's also a spy working for the bad guys.

Despite the tonal issues, the fact this never strays very far from the standard W-I-P template and the fact several of our lead characters face a rather anti-climactic fate, this is still a watchable, highly entertaining and healthily-budget trash flick. It's nicely shot, has good sets, a decent music score from Wang Fu Liang (including a great credits theme) and nice location work during the second half, which takes place around waterfalls and the mountains. The acting really isn't too bad, either. It's also packed with action. There's cat fights, sword fights, gun fights, karate fights, bayonet stabbings, impalements, explosions, electrocutions, car chases, foot chases, snake attacks, forced boot licking and much, much more.

★★1/2

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