As nasty as it is, Shaw Brothers’ Lost Souls (打蛇) is a great example of an exploitation movie being educational. (!??!)
Lost Souls (打蛇) Synopsis
This notorious Hong Kong exploitation movie depicts the plight 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 older 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 and historical drama. What is often forgotten nowadays is that Shaw Bros also released several truly nasty exploitation movies in the 80s. Many of these easily give notorious western counterparts a tough run for the money.
As for Lost Souls itself, I can only describe it as the best and worst of the exploitation genre within the same fruit. The movie pounces on every opportunity for gratuitous nudity, and yet at the same time, also embellishes itself with stinging 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 clearly remember 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?
Is that awful male rape scene an explicit allegory that under such social injustice, even strong-willed, physically capable young men are reduced to pigs?
I’m undecided. But made me painfully aware of one of Hong Kong’s worst social crisis, Lost Souls effectively 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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