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  Venus Tear Diamond, The Love & Larceny
Year: 1971
Director: Umetsugu Inoue
Stars: Lily Ho Li, Ling Yun, Lee Kwan, Chui Chi-Suk, Po Chih Hsien, Kam Hon Sit, Nakako Daisuke
Genre: Musical, Thriller, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: At a swanky hotel resort in Japan sexy Chinese jewel thief Irene Chan (Lily Ho Li), a.k.a. Fragrant Night, has her sights set on stealing the valuable Venus Tear Diamond. Not realizing her long-time rival Sir Night, a.k.a. Kenneth Cheung (Ling Yun) plans on doing the same. Neither thief knows what the other looks like. So when Kenneth and his buddy Peter (Kam Hon Sit) pick up Irene and her pixie-cut-sporting sidekick Jenny (Po Chi Hsien) en route to a singing contest at the Moonlight Mountain Hotel both couples are immediately smitten. However as Irene and Kenneth plot to swipe the diamond from under the nose of party-loving young widow Mrs. Lam (Chui Chi-Suk) and oafish mystery writer-cum-amateur sleuth Mr. Wong (Lee Kwan) romantic feelings complicate their plans.

Umetsugu Inoue, Japanese musical and thriller auteur in residence at Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers studio, directed this romantic caper film. Part influenced by Alfred Hitchcock's much beloved To Catch a Thief (1955) and also Doris Day/Rock Hudson rom-coms (note Inoue's playful use of split-screen and the witty repartee between our two gorgeous leads) The Venus Tear Diamond exudes a savoir-faire and carefree tone very much in the frothy style of Sixties Hollywood fare like The Pink Panther (1964), How to Steal a Million (1966) and Gambit (1966). A style that may have fallen from favour in the gritty Hollywood of the early Seventies but not so across Asia where audiences reveled in the glamorous romance and swooned over its musical numbers (Bollywood was making many similar films around this time). A syrupy blend of surf rock, achingly sincere love ballads and bubblegum pop that while obviously geared more to the taste of early Seventies Chinese filmgoers will likely strike most western listeners as pleasant if unremarkable.

In a similar vein those more vested in the visceral side of Shaw Brothers cinematic output may find The Venus Tear Diamond talky and dry. When it comes to staging a suspense sequence Inoue is no Hitchcock. Yet the film is more interested in heady romance along with occasional detours into jet-set farce reminiscent of Inoue's likable We Love Millionaires (1971) (also starring gorgeous superstar Lily Ho Li). What is more its sporadic comedy suspense scenes (i.e. Lily dangling from a ledge outside while her friends struggle to get Mr. Wong drunk) are modestly compelling. Thematically the film is undeniably slight, hinging on the protagonists falling for each other's innocent act then fretting each is unworthy of the other's love. Not realizing they are actually a perfect match. However Inoue throws pleasing twists and turns over the course of the larcenous couple's evolving relationship. He allows Lily Ho Li play many facets to her character and she energizes an otherwise slight script with captivating comic energy. Indeed alongside its groovy production design The Venus Tear Diamond is worth watching for Lily Ho Li's array of impeccable outfits alone: the black pantsuit, tan jacket with gold buckles, that pink dress she wears while shaking her groove thang on the dance floor... wow! Similar visual delights feature in fascinating footage culled from Expo 70, a cultural landmark in Japan that left a lasting impact on its subsequent thirty years of art, design, science, film and television.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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