Temptress of a Thousand Faces (1969)

Temptress of a Thousand FacesOriginal Title: Qian mian mo nu
Country: Hong Kong
Director: Chang-hwa Jeong (as Cheng Chang Ho)
Starring: Tina Chin Fei, Liang Chen, Pat Ting Hung, Carrie Ku Mei, Hsi Chang, Yu Chin Chang, Hsin, Yen Chao, Yi Ling Chen
Music: Wang Foo Ling (plus John Barry and others – most likely without permission)

If you are a fan of Diabolik or Fantomas, then the Shaw Bros. Studios Temptress of a Thousand Faces is a film that you must track down. Unfortunately at the moment, that is a little tricky to do, because the Hong Kong VCD is now out of print (apparently there is also a French DVD but it doesn’t have subs). But do what you have to do to track this down – eBay / Grey market /whatever… believe me, you need this film in your life. This film is a riot of sixties style light, colour, action and movement.

While Temptress is not a spy exactly a spy film, anyone who loves space age underground lairs, villains in rubber masks, outrageous torture devices, beautiful women in mod fashions, car chases, armies of ninjas, will appreciate what is on display here.

Like so many of Shaw Bros. films from the period, Temptress opens with a stylised animated title sequence, then wasting no time, jumps straight into the action. The Hong Kong police arrive at a bank to find the vault door open and the guards trussed up inside. On on of the shelves is a business card announcing that the theft is the work of an arch villainess who calls herself the Temptress of a Thousand Faces. At this moment there is a musical sting lifted directly for the Goldfinger soundtrack.

The film then cuts to a Rolls Royce cruising through the traffic. Inside is Miss Jin, who happens to be one of Hong Kong’s most wealthy women. As she puffs on a cigarette in a long thin holder, she is poured a drink of brandy or cognac from the bar by her assistant – it’s the good life! They arrive at a Jewellers and proceed inside. An array of stunning jewelled necklaces and bracelets are paraded for Miss Jin to inspect. She chooses to purchase three of the most expensive pieces then signs a cheque for 576000 HK dollars and leaves with her boodle.

After the purchase, the salesman is gloating over the commission he has just made from the sale, but at that moment, the words on the cheque begin to disappear — like they were evaporating. Then in their place, new words begin to form on the cheque – it says: ‘greetings from the Temptress of a Thousand Faces’. It wasn’t Miss Jin at all who had attended the jewellery store. The real Miss Jin had died earlier in the morning. The impostor was the mysterious Temptress in a lifelike rubber mask.

Li Mao is a reporter for a newspaper that is in decline, but the editor and chief has noticed that sales pick up after the Temptress has committed a crime. The Temptress is news, and more importantly, she sells papers. Li Mao is assigned to do a story on the Temptress. But that’s not so easy. Nobody knows who the Temptress is, and even then, it is not likely that she’d be the type to give interviews.

To get around this small inconvenience, Li Mao decides to concoct her own fabricated story about the Temptress. She enlists the aid of the papers photographer, Yu-da to help her out with some photos. The photos are supposed to be the Temptress, but instead she plays the role herself, dressed in dark clothes and hidden behind a cape.

The story is published and the police aren’t too happy about it. They are sure that Li Mao has fabricated the story to increase the newspaper’s circulation. The officer assigned to bring down the Temptress is Ji Ying (Tina Chin Fei) also happens to be the girlfriend of Yu-da, the photographer (now there’s a nice little love triangle).

To alleviate the damage done by Li Mao’s newspaper article, Ji Ying goes on television and threatens to bring the Temptress to justice. After the television appearance, Ji Ying returns home, and then her phone rings. The caller claims to be the Temptress, and demands to see Ji Ying. Ji Ying passes the call off as a joke that she believes that Yu-da is playing on her, and hangs up. Then the door bell rings. She goes to the door and opens it. There is nobody there, but there is a boxed rose of the doorstep. She picks it up and opens the box, smelling the rose. She passes out (it is drugged) and wakes up in the wonderful subterranean secret lair of the Temptress – chained to a circular stone altar in a transparent negligee.

Many of the Shaw Bros. spy films were a little bit saucy – and while there is no actual nudity, this film has a leering quality that almost beggars disbelief. The film features an array of transparent gowns and candy coloured negligees. It also showcases plenty of upskirt and panty fetish photography — and with that, I’d like to welcome all the new readers to this site who have accidentally ended up here after googling ‘upskirt panty fetish’ – the screen caps above are just for you.

The Temptress’s underground lair is amazing. It is filled with outlandish torture chambers, trapdoors, cages that drop from the ceiling and most importantly a hot-tub. A hot-tub is so much more fun than a pool filled with piranhas. It is also bathed in that sixties style glow of red and green lights. The Temptress has no shortage of minions either. First there are a company of veiled handmaidens – who I am not sure if the are just for decoration or to provide some kind of security. Not that security is an issue, Temptress also has a small army of incompetent black clad masked ninjas, and a number of machine gun toting female guards.

Ji Ying is tortured for a while and warned not to meddle in the Temptress’ affairs again. Then strangely she is released. This is strange because the Temptress is not above a bit of cold blooded murder, and furthermore as some of the other plot contrivances are revealed later in the film (I won’t spoil them here), it just doesn’t make any sense. Oh well – it doesn’t really matter. It’s all grand entertainment. Just let it sweep over you. Once Ji Ying is free, she simply re-doubles her efforts to capture the Temptress. And the arch-villainess kindly provides plenty of opportunities for her to do so. Unfortunately for Ji Ying, most of these opportunities result in her being captured by the Temptress once more – but that is all part of the fun.

Fantomas

Fantomas

If this synopsis is sounding a little familiar to you, then you may have seen the first film in André Hunebelle’s French Fantomas series, which featured Jean Marais as a villain who was able to change identity with a series of lifelike rubber face masks. Temptress, is what would be politely called a ‘re-imagining’ of that film (that’s so much nicer than ‘ripoff’). But there are differences. The main change is that Temptress has a female in the role of the villain, whereas the French original had a male. Temptress also focuses on the police officer as the villain’s main protagonist, whereas in the French film, it was the reporter, and his falsified newspaper story that incurred the ire of the villain. The other major difference is the ending. Fantomas ends with an inspired (if somewhat slapstick) chase sequence where where Fantomas uses a train, a car, a motorbike, a boat, and a submarine to make his escape. Temptress reverts to a more familiar Bondian setpiece, in her spectacular underground lair – I guess Shaw Bros. figured that they had gone to the trouble and expense of creating the sets; why not use them?

What makes Temptress such a fascinating film is that the two main protagonists are women. Apart from the perv factor, when you think about it, it is quite unique. I am not talking about femme fatales or henchmen (or henchwomen as the case may be), but the main characters – hero and villain are both women. Okay maybe Modesty Blaise had a female hero, but her main villain was Gabriel (Dirk Bogarde), a man. Even the Sumuru pictures, which featured a strong female villain, had a male for the hero (George Nader in Million Eyes and Richard Whyler in Seven Secrets). So to see a film, at the height of the male dominated spy craze, where the two leads are women is quite groundbreaking (maybe there’s some Women’s Prison films out there that may prove me wrong – but women’s prison films aren’t generally geared up to be main stream entertainment). I guess though, the underlying question with Temptress is simply if the film became a showcase for the female leads because the film-makers had to twist the original Fantomas story enough so it wouldn’t look like outright plagiarism. Or where they deliberately pushing the gender stereotype boundary?

I think the answer lies in Shaw Bros. previously made Angel films , particularly the first film, Angel With Iron Fists, which featured Lily Ho as Agent 009. Angel was a strong female heroine and in Iron Fists she goes up against the villainous Mrs Jin – co-incidentally played by Tina Chin Fei. But whereas Ji Ying pretty much goes it alone, Angel had the manly assistance of Tang Ching to help her out – during both of her missions. I almost see the Angel films as a test run for Temptress – a test run that wasn’t quite prepared to go all the way.

Credited as Cheng Chang Ho, Temptress was directed by Chang-hwa Jeong, who is probably best known for directing King Boxer, aka Five Fingers of Death. But prior to Temptress he earned his espionage credentials directing Special Agent X-7 in 1967 (Yan die shen long) – a film that to my knowledge still remains curiously M.I.A. – IMDb lists it as a production of the Kam Hoi Film Company and intimates that there was some South Korean funding too, but I can find no information to verify this. The flyer below would indicate that the film was a Shaw Bros. production – but for all I know, it may have just been a distribution deal.

Special Agent x-7

Special Agent x-7

Temptress of a Thousand Faces, while being derivative of Fantomas, and borrowing heavily from other spymania films (there’s a car with revolving number plates, for example) is a quite a good film, possibly eclipsing some of the lessor films it was trying to imitate. The film is lightning paced with plenty of fights, car chases and a mod pop-art sensibility that make it perfect entertainment for those with a penchant for sixties spy cinema.

Now here’s where it gets a little weird – and most of this is sheer guesswork I my behalf. But to preface my thoughts, here’s a ramble I posted (slightly edited) on the Eurospy Forum some months ago:

Here we go again. I am on one of my investigative quests and am casting out my long tendril like feelers for information.

Before I go any further – credit where credit is due. Most of the information I am about to recite (or link to) has been discovered by Todd at the blog Die Danger Die Die Kill and Todd cites Dave at Soft film for providing some leads.

Passport to Hell

Passport to Hell

It’s best I start at the beginning and the Eurospy film – Sergio Sollima’s Passport to Hell. I am presuming that most of you have seen (or will see) this film. Passport to Hell is a good film, and of the hundreds of Eurospy films that were made in the sixties, it is possibly one of the best, buoyed by the sincerity of Giorgio Ardisson’s performance and a script that refuses to collapse into goofy genre conventions.

Now about 18 months ago, on Die Danger Die Die Kill, Todd reviewed a Shaw Bros. Hong Kong film called The Black Falcon. What Todd discovered, which nobody had mentioned before, was that The Black Falcon was essentially a remake of Passport to Hell.  Well, that put The Black Falcon on my radar, and I figured in time I would pick up a copy and compare it for myself. It took me a while, but I finally obtained a copy of The Black Falcon.

Now Todd reviewed a VCD version of the film, whereas, the only copy I could get was on DVD. With the DVD I got a few extra features that Todd wasn’t privy to. One of these was a photo gallery. In the gallery there are two shots that are the same, but featuring different actors. The text explained that one was the Hong Kong version of the film; the other, filmed simultaneously with a different cast, was an ‘international’ version.

So that had me thinking that there were ‘two’ remakes of Passport to Hell. Of course I have searched for the second ‘International’ remake, but so far without any luck.

Then a couple of weeks ago, on Die, Danger, Die, Die, Kill, Todd posted a review of  Gerak Kilat, which featured a swinging sixties spy named Jefri Zain. You can read Todd’s review here.

It appears the Gerak Kilat was made by Shaw Bros. Malay studio in Singapore. And it was the first of 3 (possibly more?) Jefri Zain films. In Todd’s review he said that other films in the series were filmed in Hong Kong, simultaneously with other Shaw films. That made me think that possibly the ‘International’ Passport to Hell film I was seeking, may have been in fact a Malay film.

Bayanga Ajal

Bayanga Ajal

This was borne out by a follow-up post Todd made concerning the two sequels to Gerak Kilat. You can read the post here (with screencaps). Here it is revealed that the first sequel Bayangan Ajal is a version of Lo Wei’s Summon to Death. The next sequel,, Jurang Baraya is a version of Angel Strikes Back.

And to take things further, Angel With The Iron Fists was versioned as, Nora Zain: Woman Agent 001 which featured Nora Zain (most likely Jefri Zain’s secret agent sister).

So that’s the tale of the tape so far. Now what I am looking for is a bit more information on this. And here are a few of my assertions which I have no proof for at all – guesses at this stage which need some confirmation (or denial). Firstly, as 3 of Lo Wei’s spy films at Shaws were made into Malay versions, I am guessing it wouldn’t be too weird for The Golden Buddha to have also had simultaneous versions made (it too could be a Jefri Zain film?) In fact practically any Shaw Bros spy film could have a Malay cousin out there.

Saazish

Saazish

Another of the Hong Kong Shaws Bros films that is of interest to me (I haven’t seen it yet), is The Temptress of a Thousand Faces, which from the reviews that I have read, would appear to be a remake of Andre Hunebelle’s first Fantomas film, but with a female lead character. This too, may have been a prime candidate for a Malay version – so I am possibly looking for two remakes of Fantomas. (Actually I am looking for 4 Fantomas films – must track down Turkish Fantomas in Iron Claw the Pirate and Bollywood Fantomas in Saazish but that is another story)..

Below are some links to a few Youtube clips:
Nora Zain
Jurang Bahaya
Gerak Kilat

So there it is. If you have any comments, information or thoughts…?

As you read, at the time of writing I had not seen Temptress of a Thousand Faces. Now that I have, the question still remains – was a Malay version filmed at the same time? It would make sense. After all, the sets are pretty impressive, and it would make good economic sense to use them again (and again). I am sure, Shaw Bros. would like to get double the bang for their buck.

So if you’re a fan of Asian spy cinema and know of any alternate versions to this film (or in fact any of the Shaw Bros. spy films), feel free to drop my a line.

6 Comments Posted in Film and Cinema
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6 Comments

  1. Thanks for the generous linkage, David! Temptress is one of my absolute favorite films, and it cannot be stressed enough just how much of a riot it is. I’m glad to see you sending some more well-deserved praise it’s way.

    I also wanted to stress that those Malaysian “remakes” of the Shaw spy films are, for the most part, probably only of interest to the most stalwart completists, as they are literally shot-for-shot remakes, utilizing the same costumes, sets, camera angles, and as much of the same actual footage as possible. Aside from Jins Shamsuddin’s undeniable charisma, they really don’t offer any type of entertainment value distinct from that of the Mandarin versions. That is, except for Gerak Kilat, which is a stand-alone film made exclusively for the Singaporean market.

  2. Great review, David! I’ll second Todd’s comment that the Malay versions of Shaw’s spy films have only a small curiosity value. Furthermore, because they were made for a Muslim market, the risque factor in the films is considerably toned down.

    As for Shaw’s various co-productions with various studios throughout East and Southeast Asia, that is truly uncharted territory. Every now and then, I will find some info about one that I never heard of before. I have not heard of any other Malay versions besides the one you mention, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. I’m curious to see those stills from the international version of The Black Falcon. If you don’t mind posting them, I’d love to take a stab at guessing what market it was made for.

  3. Wow, great review, David! Thanks so much for opening my eyes to this film. I must see it now! It sounds great. And all that speculation at the end is fascinating as well. I think this is my favorite post you’ve ever done!

  4. Thanks for your comments guys.

  5. “anyone who loves space age underground lairs, villains in rubber masks, outrageous torture devices, beautiful women in mod fashions, car chases, armies of ninjas-”

    Yes, Please! After the thrill of the Shaws’ Golden Buddha, I Can’t wait to see Temptress. I’m glad your scouting out the international nooks and crannies.

    -Jason (Spy Vibe)

  6. I picked this up on a whim yonks ago when it first came out on VCD (at the same time as the two Angel films, I think), and it’s been a firm favourite since.

    I’m absolutely certain I read somewhere – possibly in The Shaw Screen – that this was one of the first films that had an “International” version produced by the Shaws. Now, considering they were making the Malay remakes before then it stills confuses me as to what “International” means.

    I’ve always thought this potentially meant dubbed, with maybe additional scenes included, or alternative takes with things spiced up. Any version other than the one which crept out on VCD (and then DVD in France) seems illusive.

    Such a shame if this wasn’t dubbed, as of all the Bond rip-offs this probably remains my favourite do to it’s general over-the-topiness displayed throughout.

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