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The Notorious Concubines (Wakamatsu Koji 1968)


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The Notorious Concubines
[Kin Pei Bei]

Genre: One Sexy Woman Brings the (13th century Chinese) World to Its Knees

review in one breath

Based on the legendary exploits of Pan Chin Lien, a 13th century Chinese housewife whose passion and prowess not only eventually led to a prestigious status but also to the overthrow of several key men of power. This is another bizarre film by notorious director Wakamatsu Koji, only this time, the production studio is pulling the strings.


intro

Okay boys and girls! Time for another FLUFF review by your good friend SaruDama.

I've actually been wanting to see this for a long while, knowing that it was directed by Wakamatsu Koji, a monumental figure in 1960-70s film as regards sex, violence and radical political ideology. And ADMIT IT! The title "Notorious Concubines" caught your attention too, RIGHT?? (heh)

Director Wakamatsu Koji is a "notorious" (get it?) filmmaker whose cinematic vision and personal exploits have placed him on more than one government's "blacklist". (He is still unable to enter the United States due to past affiliation with the Palestinian Red Army.) His films are often an explosive array of violence, pink erotica and leftist politics, and for that reason Wakamatsu connoisseurs may very well approach this film with justifiably high expectations. Such hopes, however, are doomed to be dashed to pieces.

This film is purely a "picture for hire" at the behest of Shochiku studios and is intended for a relatively wide, mainstream audience. The basis of the film is a well-known tale within Chinese/Asian literature dating back to the Ming Dynasty (16th century) regarding a 13th century character, Pan Chin Lien, a commoner's beautiful wife whose seductive prowess inevitably brought about major political and moral consequences. (The film's Japanese title "Kin Pei Bei" is a nippon-pronounced version of the kanji making up her name.) The tale revolves around the ultimately explosive relation amongst the three main characters, Pan Chin Lien played here by Mayama Tomoko, Wu Sing (Takashima Shikokyu), the handsome military man she unsuccessfully attempts to seduce, and Hsi Men Ching, the the rich and powerful hedonist whose bed chamber Pan Chien Lien ultimately ends up in. Here, Hsi Men Ching is played by a very devilish and sex-crazed Itami Juzo (!!).

There are a few elements which may betray Wakamatsu's directorial hand, though all in all, he comes across quite subdued here. First off, there is plenty of "pink" content here, ranging from nude sexy beauties to naked supple maidens tied from the ceiling and being "disciplined". Though clearly not a good film to show your Sunday School class, this is aimed at rather mainstream audiences and lacks all the pink shock of Wakamatsu's other more characteristic films. There is also a hint of socialist politics here of which Wakamatsu is so fond, pitting the welfare of the common man against the greed of the aristocracy, but this too comes across as a mere whimper compared to his truly political films such as Ecstasy of the Angels (1972).

verdict

This ranks squarely within the "fun/odd" category and as such approaches its own style of camp (consisting of dramatic flamboyance minus the humor). I personally would advise against renting this as a Wakamatsu film unless you are interested in seeing what he's willing to do for money when he needs it. Rather than an education in filmography, you can come to this film anticipating a very sexy Mayama Tomoko, the insatiable Itami Juzo, and Takashima, who has clearly gone off the edge by the film's conclusion.

The version I reviewed is distributed by Something Weird Video, with whom I am (now) thoroughly impressed after seeing all the cool extras they threw in. There is an entire "second feature" entitled Violated Paradise, an early quasi-documentary exploring the seedier (sexier) underbelly of early 1960s Tokyo. I personally found this documentary fascinating and far more entertaining than the main feature. Both features, by the way, are English dubbed, with all vestiges of the original language sadly lost forever somewhere in the annals of time.

Version reviewed: Region 1 DVD. English dubbed only.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Based on a 16th century Chinese tale. Nothing too graphic, but some flowing red blood. Plenty of implied violence when all is said and done. Concubinal bOObies galore. I'm thinking contemporary society should really revisit that whole harem thing... Not really green skull worthy, but I'll be generous here since this is a Wakamatsu Koji film.

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