Saturday, December 22, 2007


Lam Yue-kit, Heung Chuen-chung and Kim Gee-mei.

THE BARREN VIRGIN (1985) D: Lee Tso-nam

. . . or, The Subject Was Hymenoplasty! A "social disease" film in the fine tradition of U.S. roadshow exploitationers like DAMAGED LIVES (1933) and SEX MADNESS (1938) and MOM AND DAD (1945). In other words, a conservative moral issue fueled by ripe dialogue and fronting an endless parade of "square-up reels" on the part of both the characters and the filmmakers. In other words, sex, son, and lots of it!

The title's misleading though: there are actually two barren virgins put through the wringer here, both of them misunderstood and driven to sins of desperation by the harsh expectations of an unjust society. One, Kwai-len (Kim Gee-mei) is a Hong Kong divorcee with an impenetrable hymen who flees an abusive husband in Hong Kong to live in Japan with the other barren virgin (Lam Yue-kit), a close friend not coincidentally named Mary whose leaking vagina has her terrified that her fiancee's archconservative (and apparently clueless) Singaporean parents—and maybe even her fiancee—will think she's used goods on her wedding night. Quelle horreur!

Repping offense in this gynecological soap opera is Mary's friend Ruby (Heung Chuen-cheung), a likewise appropriately-named scarlet woman who models naked or nearly-naked with snakes, motorcycles, spearguns, banana-yellow surfboards and other phallic metaphors, and snacks on a buffet of promiscuous boyfriends, including one (Chan Kai-jun) who discovers a surprise package on a Caucasian tourist but doesn't let it spoil the fun!

Heung Chuen-chung with accessories.

The barren-esses, meanwhile, turn to the nightclub scene to raise the exorbitant cost of Mary's outpatient hymenoplasty, with Kwai-len substituting her "iron bar" hymen for Mary's less protective barrier right at the brink of nookie with a sleazy old fart.

Despite a Category II rating and distinctive lensing against often dramatic Japanese locales, the abundant toplessness and full frontal nudity here tend to mitigate against any pretense of social responsibility, which was probably the point to begin with. Marbled with the kind of stale, hokey comic relief that one expects from a film of this genre, regardless of country of origin, and the characters ultimately reap their just rewards, as they always have in films like these: some enjoy postnuptial frottage with their abstinent manly men, while others face the direst of consequences (thanks in part to a gweilo "transvertile") in a throwaway bit that reeks of prevailing ignorance about the subject.

But hey, tits galore! as David Friedman might say. And the opening credits—all three minutes, fifteen seconds of 'em—unspool over footage of the Main Street Electrical Parade at Tokyo Disneyland, almost as if to prophecy the innocence that will be lost soon after, but more likely because somebody wanted to get their home movies up on the big screen. The last 90 seconds of this film truly must be seen to be believed.

And remember. It could happen to you. And you. And you!

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