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  Human Goddess, The A Spoonful of Sugar from Shaw BrosBuy this film here.
Year: 1971
Director: Ho Meng-hua
Stars: Li Ching, Chin Feng, Pang Pang, Shih Tien, Pai Lu, Chiu Hung, Lee Pang-Fei, Suen Lam, Hoh Ban, Ng Wai, Lui Hung, Tsang Choh-Lam, Chu Yau-Ko, Hao Li-Jen, Cheung Chok-Chow, Nam Wai-Lit, Siu Gam, Fong Yuen, Sai Gwai-Pau, Hung Ling-Ling
Genre: Musical, Comedy, Fantasy
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Shaw Brothers’ answer to Mary Poppins (1964) is a feel-good musical fantasy tailored for the lovely Li Ching, the studio’s reigning “Baby Queen” following her award-winning turn in The Mermaid (1964) at just seventeen. Doing her best Julie Andrews, Ching plays a fairy princess who, drawn by the bright lights of Hong Kong harbour, descends to earth as a miniskirted mortal. Swiping her groovy, Seventies garb off a store window mannequin she draws wolf whistles as she skips along the street. Moved by some starving street urchins, the goddess feeds them fruit, then foils a bank robbery making fools of the cowardly cops.

Meanwhile, good guy Dong Zi Li (musical star Chin Feng]) and portly sidekick Bull (Pang Pang - who played Pigsy in The Monkey Goes West (1964) and its three sequels) are struggling to keep their orphanage afloat. Business tycoon Xu Cai Fa (Lee Pang-Fei) and his mistress Laura (Pai Lu) want the land for its excellent feng shui. They outbid Dong’s philanthropic investors and seize the property, giving the orphans three days to come up with the money or move out. Recognising Dong Zi Li as the reincarnation of her heavenly lover, the celestial fairy resolves to use all her magical tricks and help save the day.

Genre-hopping Shaw stalwart Ho Meng-hua helmed this kitsch confection whose sprightly soundtrack bounces from Bossa Nova to fuzz guitar pop and sing-along Disney style tunes. Listen out for excerpts from Quincy Jones’ famous soundtrack to The Italian Job (1969). The lyrics aim for broad social satire as Ching unmasks various venal and corrupt characters at a swanky party where Mr. Fa tries to sweet talk her into his bed with bribes of diamonds and cash.

Indeed the film takes a pretty dim view of life in early Seventies Hong Kong with children starving, con men impersonating cops, and paisley-shirted swingers who try to drug naïve girls at their psychedelic hangout. This backfires with Ching whose far-out freak-out finds her floating cocktail glasses across the room and predating Lionel Richie by, yes, dancing on the ceiling (oh, what a feeling…). Although aimed at family audiences, there is a surprising amount of risqué humour including a magician’s assistant going topless when a trick goes awry and a witty duet that hinges on a misunderstanding. The goddess tells Dong she comes from the Heavenly Palace, little suspecting that’s the name of a local brothel.

Yet The Human Goddess has a remarkable ability to turn potentially sordid episodes into something witty and light and stresses a winning message. As the goddess discovers, celestial intervention will only get you so far and magic is of no use unless wielded with common sense. Typical of its homespun wisdom, the film stresses a strong work ethic. When the kids finally earn themselves a hearty meal, it’s from hard work not magic tricks. The production boasts a lovely, pastel candy-coloured storybook look and charming stop-motion special effects whenever Ching delights the orphans with her magical tricks. She makes flowers blossom, serenades birds and butterflies, shrinks to tiny size and tidies the room, Poppins style. Ho Meng-hua also supplies sunny location footage, including nice shots of Hong Kong’s lush parks from before the skyscrapers ran rampant. Li Ching makes a vivacious songstress, stylish in her bouffant hairdo and quick-changes into an array of fab outfits, especially her slinky orange catsuit and matching feather boa.

An eventful story takes a few surprising twists and turns, most notably when Dong winds up in an insane asylum. Along with a plethora of pop tunes the film works in a breakneck car chase as Ching outraces bad guys in her flying orange E-type Jaguar, a day at the track where she flummoxes Fa’s champion racehorse, and a climactic kung fu food fight with sharp-suited gangsters. Most memorably, an incredibly kitsch musical number where Ching and her six celestial sisters play bunny ballerinas cavorting with kids dressed as singing flowers in a stage play about how springtime is fleeting and winter cruel. It’s a metaphor, see?

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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