Ever wondered what the Carry On films might have looked like if they’d been made as musicals in Hong Kong in the early 1970s? While that description might be just a little disingenuous, Meng Hua Ho’s The Human Goddess is very much an Asian variation on the kind of late 1960s / early 1970s Terry Southern-esque satirical comedies epitomised by the likes of The Magic Christian – and your taste for it will be determined by quite how broad you like your humour.
Li Ching plays Seventh Sister, who comes down from Heaven to Hong Kong out of curiosity about the mortal world, only to discover the apparent reincarnation of her old lover Dong Yong. Zili (Feng Chin) is the owner of an orphanage that’s run into debt and is sold off to local gangster Xu Caifa (Hsiung Chao), and thus Seventh Sister gets involved, in an attempt to make the orphanage self-sufficient and earn enough money to pay off Xu Caifa and buy it back.
That’s the plot, but what that doesn’t convey is the tone of the film, which was released in 1972 but might have been made at almost any point during the previous two decades (bar perhaps for the Carry On Camping-style ‘Barbara Windsor moment’). There’s a section after Seventh Sister first arrives where she wanders the back streets of Hong Kong, all expansive studio sets by the look of it, and comes to realise that humankind isn’t the generous, inquisitive species she’d been expecting; thereafter she uses simple magic to foil robbers, bursting into song after arriving at the orphanage (and many, many times thereafter) and to the film’s credit, it uses all of these aspects in the resolutions to the problems it sets its characters – albeit in a wrap-up final act that probably lasts at least quarter of an hour too long.
The Blu-ray transfer, while making The Human Goddess a mostly crisp experience, also sets into not-quite-so-sharp relief some of the filmmaking choices made by director Meng Hua Ho. Numerous shots are recorded on inappropriate lenses, the main characters or important elements out of focus for long moments at a time – although elsewhere, this predilection for shallow focus helps set a magical tone and sets up Seventh Sister’s disassociation from the ‘modern’ world.
The overall impression is of a Chinese Doris Day walking onto the set of Singin’ in the Rain and finding herself in a grown-up version of Annie under the auspices of the team behind the Confessions films. The acting and comic action are often clumsy and obvious, but Ho’s film certainly has a heart and a little bit of politics too – and should prove fascinating for fans of low-brow period cinema.
BLU-RAY REVIEW: THE HUMAN GODDESS (1972) / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: HO MENG HUA / SCREENPLAY: HO MENG HUA / STARRING: CHING LEE, FENG CHIN, PENG PENG, HSUNG CHAO, PENG-FEI LI, LU PAI, LAN SUN, YI HSU / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW