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December 28, 2010

The Millionaire Chase

millionnaire chase 1.jpg

Diao jin gui
Umetsugu Inoue - 1969
IVL Region 3 DVD

Of the many filmmakers and actors who died this year, the one that won't be mentioned at the Oscars or any award shows, or most articles, will be Umetsugu Inoue. He wasn't a Hollywood director, but he did love Hollywood movies. I wrote a belated notice regarding his death, including an anecdote regarding the origins of The Millionaire Chase. The basic premise is similar to How to Marry a Millionaire, with three women who intend to marry wealthy husbands. Both films even star a woman named Betty, Grable in the Hollywood film, Betty Ting Pei in the Hong Kong production. While from the perspective of western cinema, The Millionaire Chase may seem hopelessly out of touch with the times, based on the requirements of the Shaw Brothers, what Inoue had done with this film was reconfigure elements from several films by Jean Negulesco.

Love and money figure into Negulesco films including The Best of Everything and It's a Woman's World. Both filmmakers had stories that revolved around three woman, usually friends, but sometimes rivals. In Negulesco's case, romance also involved exotic, in his case European settings. In The Millionaire Chase the idea of foreign travel was distinctly Asian, with the Hong Kong characters traveling to Tapei, Tokyo and Bangkok. The big difference is that while Inoue's films were relatively big budget by Shaw Brothers standards, the difference with the lush production values of 20th Century Fox are quite obvious, especially in the studio sets. Both Inoue's musical comedies, like the Fox films by Negulesco, are generally lighthearted fare, more likely to elicit a smile than any more serious response.

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Inoue's film is about three showgirls played by Lily Ho, Betty Ting Pei, and Chin Ping. Lily Ho is in love with show biz quy, Peter Chen Ho, Inoue's usual leading man. Peter Chen Ho is in love with a married woman, a favored singer. When the woman reveals that her husband is joining the pair on their romantic trip and performing tour around southeast Asia, Peter Chen Ho decides taking the trio as a way to distract the woman's husband. Betty Ting Pei falls in love with a gemologist, while Chin Ping gets the hiccups from the sight of a handsome waiter, who jobless, seems to have the means to travel to the same cities as the women. Being a film for a Hong Kong audience primarily, the comedy is broader than what might be found in a equivalent Hollywood movie, with some moments closer to Frank Tashlin, also at the Fox studios at the time of Negulesco. One thing is certain, Jean Negulesco never had a pie fight in any of his movies.

Between what little is available in English, and the few films I've seen indicates that there is much more to know about Inoue. Until it was yanked from Youtube, a clip from his 1962 version of Black Lizard was available. Starring Machiko Kyo, what was seen resembled a musical number, with Kyo holding her pursuers at bay with a gun, changing from a gown to a man's suit complete with fedora, and escaping into the night, a scene of canted angles and giant shadows. What is relatively available for English speaking audiences are the Shaw Brothers films made over a period of about five years, but only on Region 3 DVDs. Inoue's Japanese films, at least those officially available, might be found on Japanese DVDs without subtitles.

With only the Hong Kong films being the most easily accessible, providing a decent overview of Inoue's career is impossible. Not only was his first Shaw Brothers production, Hong Kong Nocturne a remake of one of his Japanese musicals, but Inoue would virtually remake his Hong Kong films. One of his later films with Lily Ho is titled We Love Millionaires. Although I wouldn't count on it, with the popularity of the first set of Eclipse DVDs of Nikkatsu Studios films from the Fifties and early Sixties, possibly one of Inoue's films starring Yujiro Ishihara, such as The Man who Causes a Storm might be included. More definitive scholarship is also required to determine how many movies Inoue actually made, with fifty-nine titles listed on IMDb, but other articles mentioning credits to over 100 films. Even if the final tally is at the low end, Inoue directed more feature films than Arthur Penn and Blake Edwards combined. What also makes the legacy of the Shaw Brothers films more remarkable is that Inoue never learned to speak Chinese.

Posted by peter at December 28, 2010 09:54 AM