Sunday, August 4, 2013

Wet Nights on Neon Ground: Bill Milling's ORIENTAL BLUE

The world of fantasy can be a fertile playground to work out our most base and elementary level perceptions of culture. It's not necessarily a bad thing and the lines between stereotypes and fantasy role playing can get fuzzy. Nowhere is this more apparent than in erotica, where the mind can indulge in comic-book level caricatures. The horny cheerleader, the love-starved housewife, the world's luckiest pizza boy, etc etc. They're all there, big-eyed & ready for your lurid Archies-comic-from-the-depraved underworld-of-your-Id action.

One of the oldest of these sexual archetypes and certainly one of the least politically correct, is what I like to call the “erotic mysteries of the East.” For centuries, there have been all sorts of Western stereotypes and assumptions about our friends in Asia. It was looked to be a source of all things mysterious, exotic and dangerous. This was mainly because it was a different culture that people were very poorly educated about. Rumors of geishas' and women in general that were trained in the ancient arts of lovemaking flourished.

By 1975, the year that Bob Milling's film “Oriental Blue” was released, these stereotypes were firmly entrenched in mass entertainment. China dolls and dragon ladies could be found in Hollywood fare, so for it to permeate into a slightly seamier ambiance makes sense. The plot is classic chow mein. Based on the stories of “Lady Fang” by Chiou-Len Huk, which is about as accurate as the cuisine at your local Hong Kong Honky Buffet, “Oriental Blue” centers around Madame Blue (Peonies Jong). Flanked by her stylish slave, Angel (C.J. Laing), she runs a prostitution ring out of her lovely apartment/operation headquarters. (All of which is located underneath a bustling restaurant, the perfect cover since all the dining din masks the assortment of screams and moans emanating from her “training” rooms.)

She is soon visited by Max (the always magnificent Bobby Astyr), a representative of the W.B.A. (World Bordello Association...I cannot make this up). His entrance is wonderful, turning on the charm with a grin and a “Madame Blue...Madame Blue...How do you do?” The man improves everything in his orbit just by being Bobby Astyr. 

Anyways, Max is needing a very specific list of girls. How specific? Well it includes a French girl who likes 2 guys in Tangiers, a beautiful black woman for a client in Munich, etc etc. Knowing of her reputation for “quality personnel”, he has come to Madame. They end up making a very lucrative deal. She naturally eschews paperwork, but seals the deal with Angel and herself. To give him an example of how she will procure all of his required ladies, she shows him her most recent acquisition-a pretty blonde actress (Kim Pope) who ends up getting drugged with Madame Blue's patented “love juice.” This concoction, an ancient herbal mix, is sort of like if Spanish Fly had a bastard child with Molly. Max is initially skeptical, pointing out that aphrodisiacs rarely, if ever, work. But he ends up proven wrong as the transformation from nervous young lady to unbridled wanton begins. Madame joins in the fun, since apparently her vagina has some kind of transformative, hypnotic powers on whoever touches it. Her new client is most pleased and the mission to find the rest of the women requested begins. 

Each loyal henchman does what he is told and in order, snaps up each girl. It's hitch-less until Madame employs her wild card, Brock (Jamie Gillis). Described as the “only one I cannot control,” Brock immediately rebuffs her advances, stating that “my cock is not for sale.”
Nevertheless, he takes the job, with his task being to recruit an innocent girl-next-door type. Serendipity must love Brock, because almost immediately he spots a distressed young lovely (Bree Anthony), weepy, fresh off the turnip truck via Nebraska, recently mugged and all alone in the big city. And “my how big your teeth are,” anyone in their right mind would ask this roguishly handsome man, but not her. In fact, the best part is after he invites her to stay with him for a couple of days, she asks, “How do I know I can trust you?” Brock replies, with a wolfish grin that only Jamie Gillis could pull off, “You don't. I might be a white slaver out to abduct you.” She smiles, laughs and walks off with him. What? Ladies, listen, if a strange man makes “jokes” about him kidnapping you and putting in the white slave sex trade, get the hell away from him. A cute face is just not worth it. 

He takes her back to his pad, located in a spectacularly faded building and gives her some love juice. She only takes a sip, since she immediately starts griping about the taste. But it only takes a sip and Brock has his buddy and fellow Madame Blue henchman, Antonio (Tony Richards) come in to help sauce her up. It works and interestingly enough, no Madame Blue for this scene. Turns out Brock has become sweet on the lady and decides to keep her for himself. This angers Madame to no end, so in retaliation, she threatens Antonio's life if Brock does not hand the girl over. He relents but hatches a plan involving a double cross that could turn deadly.

“Oriental Blue” is a hot and cold film. The heat lies within the absolutely gorgeous cinematography and lighting. There are scenes here that are near Radley Metzger level of cinematic eye candy. The camera work is solid and fluid, not to mention the composition. There's one close-up of Brock's face, his eyes dark with murky emotion, lips pursed thoughtfully around a cigarette, that is nothing short of exquisite. Taken out of context, it could belong in any art film. The music, hodge-podged from assorted libraries, ranges from eerie to cheery, but all underscore their respective scenes fairly well.

Some of the actors are great, with Gillis and Astyr being the standouts. Bobby's clearly having a lot of fun with his role, as if he is on just how ridiculous the story really is. Gillis plays it straight, giving a performance that is better than a film that implements “love juice” really deserves. Laing and Alan Marlow (playing Conrad, one of Madame's right hand men) are memorable, despite being given very little to do.

Speaking of acting, Jong does not really leave a very sinister imprint as Madame Blue. She is enthusiastic, though, and at least tries, so points for that. At least they cast a woman of color and not just throwing some heavy eyeliner and a cheongsam dress on a white actress. Bree Anthony, who is so gorgeous, is a little grating as Brock's potential true love/kidnap victim. To the extent that is hard to buy that a guy like Brock, whom at one point is described as a mean-hearted bastard, would risk so much for this whiny voiced Midwest cutie. I kept hoping that he would put his finger to her mouth and go “Shhhhhhh.”

The plot's obviously goony, though one thing I will give this film is that there is interracial sex all over the place, including one scene with a really striking woman from Jamaica (?), all of which is played like consenting adults having a good time. As hideous as it is, it was not that long ago where interracial was viewed at best as kinky and at worst, a move that would hurt your career. (Marilyn Chambers was the exception, but how many actresses started off which as much fame and clout as her? Not many.) It's funny because reading the synopsis of “Oriental Blue,” you might be expecting one racist, rapey hoe-down of a film. Mercifully, it's not really either. It's just one visually luscious, silly comic-strip level piece of erotica. 

Bless Vinegar Syndrome & Distribpix (two companies always out for my heart) for releasing this film, especially with such love and care. Even better, it's available on a double bill with the Kung-Fu sex oddity., “Vixens of Kung Fu.” (Keep an eye out for a review of that one later.)

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