As nasty as it is, Shaw Brothers’ Lost Souls (打蛇) is a great example of an exploitation movie being educational. (!??!)
Lost Souls Synopsis
This notorious Hong Kong exploitation movie depicts the plight of a group of illegal PRC immigrants in Hong Kong during the early 80s. Enamoured with the prosperity of British Hong Kong, particularly the legendary “Diamond Hill,” they risk death to reach the ex-colony, only to be captured by vile gangsters intended on using them to extort ransom from relatives. To escape, they are forced to resort to equal violence and inhumanity. Yet, despite all sacrifices, is there a better tomorrow for them? Or is there only despair and death?
First off, I’m unsure how famous/notorious Shaw Brothers’ Lost Souls is today. People with interest in the genre certainly knows about it, particularly after trailers and clips appeared on YouTube. On the other hand, folks like my mother and relatives, who watch nothing but Hong Kong productions, have not even heard of the name. My guess is that older Chinese tend to associate the Shaw Brothers brand with kung fu movies. What is often forgotten nowadays is that Shaw Bros also released several truly nasty exploitation movies in the 80s. Many of these easily give western counterparts a tough run for the money.
As for Lost Souls itself, I can only summarise it as the best and worst of the exploitation genre in the same fruit. The movie pounces on every opportunity for gratuitous nudity, yet at the same time, it also prides itself as social commentary with an almost feverish passion. The latter evident not only from the cast’s devoted performance but also how the story vigorously references real-life Hong Kong urban myths and social phenomena at every turn.
Incredibly, this incongruous mix works; I still recall how guilty I felt looking at all those writhing naked bodies during my first watch. Is this thus proof that exploitation movies could actually be educational? That Shaw Brothers found the right formula for this contentious genre over 30 years ago? I wouldn’t go to that extent of saying that. But made me painfully aware of one of Hong Kong’s worst social crisis, Lost Souls certainly did.
PS: Lost Souls was directed by Mou Tun-Fei. A couple of years down the road, he would direct the even viler Men Behind the Sun.
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