Digging through shelves upon shelves of Fortune Star DVDs in Hong Kong, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed. There are so many unfamiliar titles. Most are likely to be horrible, even if they look amazing, but sometimes you just have to make that leap of faith. Every now and then a blind purchase could turn out to be something as mad (and maddening) as Under the Rose (1992).
UNDER THE ROSE
original title: 大咸濕
Hong Kong, 1992, Norman Chan Hok-Yan (Otto Chan)
With its ludicrous and unashamedly obnoxious approach to the subject matter, it’s no surprise Otto Chan, Clown Prince of Cat III and director of goofy shit like Stooges in Hong Kong (1992) and Screwball ’94 (1994), is responsible. James Wong suits Chan’s directorial sensibilities, or lack there of, perfectly. Wong hams it up like his life depending on it, eyes bugging from his skull and double-entendres permanently spilling from his grinning lips. The subtitles make for a confusing time in deciphering Wong’s gleefully pervy narration. Actually, it’s not just Wong that gets lost in the translation, as the hysterical scene of phone sex below demonstrates. Geoduck? Clam boy? Constipation?!
Wong and Veronica explore a variety of seedy subjects, using a variety of different methods of presentation throughout: reenactments, clearly faked hidden camera footage, long befuddling monologues from Wong, and even the occasional heartbreaking – and possibly real – interview. All are set to throbbing synth-infused tunes. Wong begins by showing us some ancient pornography, flipping through a book of old wood prints. He then shows us a few of his favourite porn stars of yesteryear. Of his favourite, Tina Leung, he tells us, “Many babies cried from starvation through gazing their eyes upon her back then.” Right.
Things get interesting when Wong sends his film crew undercover in an illegal Mongkok porn shop. The hidden camera footage at first appears legitimate, but it soon becomes obvious what we’re seeing is fake when Wong’s undercover agent, who I believe is director Otto Chan, is sent into a room to masturbate with the help of a girl. The camera is perfectly placed on top of a television to capture the scene. No masturbating takes place, but we do see a flash of the dog-fucking porn they’re watching.
The film then dramatises the history of burlesque, strip clubs and… uh… sexy shoe-polishing girls through a series of hysterical reenactments before presenting more supposed hidden camera footage in a modern strip club. We’re shown inside the now demolished Walled City where Wong takes us through a “disgustingly awful time portal” to filthy back alley sex shows where patrons apparently paid big bucks to squeeze boobs (it costs more to use both hands).
Wong and his naive co-host Veronica then discuss “fishball stalls” while eating fishballs in a segment that had me rather confused. Luckily the inner workings of a fishball stall is reenacted for us by a “four-eyed pervert”. The four-eyed pervert enters a dark room, slipping on the floor as he enters (Wong’s narration implies the floor is covered with semen). He takes his place in a stall with a Coca-Cola resting in front of him. A girl sits next to him and they fool around. Wong’s narration screams at the man for drinking his coke. Why? Well, when the cops show up to bust the fishball stall, they force all the patrons to lick their fishy fingers. The other perves managed to wash their hands in their coke before being put on trial, but not our four-eyed friend. This segment had me shouting at the screen. I mean, is it really that much of a big deal to lick a vagina-smeared finger?!
Under the Rose spends some time rambling about massage parlors and Temple Street prostitutes. Wong muses on the different tastes in women that Western men have. Just as the film is becoming tedious, Jackie Chan shows up in a PSA promoting condom use. Otto Chan then takes a hilarious detour demonstrating the many uses of condoms.
The condom gags wrap up, and everything gets a little grim. The film crew hire a prostitute, Joanna, and send a john to meet her in a hotel room. Intercut between the videotaped sex, Joanna’s pimp is interviewed. He explains how girls are manipulated and trapped in the sex industry. While his descriptions are probably true, the interview is clearly fake. However, when the crew interviews Joanna, the prostitute, it appears genuine. Images of cartoon girls with pig’s heads and deranged faces appear on screen as Joanna tells her grim life story.
But never fear, a joyful James Wong, shit-eating grin in tow, returns to the screen. He explains that the crew has decided to try an experiment, which apparently proves that Hong Kong’s female population is gagging to pay for sex. Gigolos are placed on city streets and hand out business cards to potential clients. Interested women meet up with the gigolos and are filmed secretly. I’ve no idea whether this is fake or real – it’s probably fake – but Wong’s cruel narration combined with the obvious discomfort shown by the women is unsettling.
The final section of Under the Rose is made up of throwaway scenes following a traveling brothel van and exceptionally silly footage (again purporting to be real) of couples having sex in cars and public areas. James Wong concludes the film by attempting to sexually assault his co-host.
Like its mondo brethren, Under the Rose pumps out constant misinformation, and Wong’s proudly perverted and clownish persona brings the genre to new facetious heights. But while Under the Rose may be obnoxious trash, it’s also an astonishing piece of history. Here is a film that simply could not exist today. Not only because of changing viewing tastes, but some of the locations represented don’t physically exist anymore. And though it tries hard to keep its tone goofy, Under the Rose leaves a mucky mark on its audience. Yes, this film is special.
Under the Rose is available on DVD from Fortune Star. The DVD is barebones and the subtitles are occasionally incomprehensible, but it looks and sounds decent enough. You can pick it up for a few bucks at a bunch of different places online. I’d recommend DDDHouse.com.