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Issue #144a HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES January 27th, 2003

Although I was able to get the disc to work on my Jaton DVD player, the region coding on this title prevented playback on my computer. Thus, I am unable to provide video grabs for this review at present. When I have fixed the problem, they will be added sometime in the future.

The Teahouse
(1974; Shaw Brothers)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Cantonese: Sing gei cha lau
Mandarin: Cheng ji cha lou
English: Sing's Teahouse or Cheng's Teahouse

Transplanted mainlander Wang Cheng (Chen Kuan-tai) runs a successful HK teahouse that employs or otherwise aids immigrants like himself. Underage waiter Blackie (Wong Yue) slacks off from his duties and is arrested trying to rob a pair of lovers at the local makeout spot. The dotty judge only sentences him to one year of probation, so Cheng tells the youth that, if he wishes to stay in the teahouse, he must serve the appropriate punishment. As a result, Blackie has to go out and commit a second robbery for the express purpose of getting arrested, a task that proves surprisingly difficult. When he finally is collared after vandalizing a bank, Blackie has to hurl one of his shoes at the judge in order to get his sentence up to the required twelve months! Meanwhile, Cheng is having his own problems with law breakers, first juvenile delinquents and, then, senior members of the 18K triad gang who are out to force one of his waitresses into prostitution. When the girl is killed in a skirmish, the two teenage attackers are acquitted, causing the situation to gradually escalate into retaliatory violence. The situation grows more complicated when Cheng is mistaken for a triad boss himself and must bluff his way through negotiations with the 18K.

As the early Celestial DVD releases go, THE TEAHOUSE is a fairly minor film but of definite interest to Westerners wishing to sample the kind of contemporary fare Shaw Brothers produced in addition to their more widely seen kung fu and horror pictures. The commentary here on the hardships faced by the poor, crime among the upper and lower classes, and the ludicrous HK justice system of the time (which gives teen felons probation for serious crimes, while adults get a month in jail for spitting on the street) is far from subtle, with almost all of the characters and situations representing some form of extreme. However, audiences no doubt loved the catharsis provided by bits that denigrate those in authority, and a scene in which the teahouse workers get vigilante revenge on some teen thugs. Known mostly for far more extreme exploitation titles like KILLER SNAKES and BAMBOO HOUSE OF DOLLS, director Kuei Chi-hong directs confidently and the cinematography offers some impressive evening exterior set-ups. As the righteous boss (who helps not only his underlings but also a pair of young beggars and their ailing single mother), Chen Kuan-tai gives a low-key but convincingly authoritative performance that helps one to forgive the episodic storyline (which, with its clearly delineated beginnings and wrap-ups, almost seems like episodes of a TV show edited together). Tony Ching Siu-tung served as the movie's action director but there are no martial arts here, just the visual triad violence. Karen Yeh Leng-chi, Ha Ping, and a rather slim Fan Mui-sang co-star (Danny Lee Sau-yin is apparently also in there somewhere). A sequel, BIG BROTHER CHENG, followed the next year and is also now out on DVD. The new Category III rating given to THE TEAHOUSE is presumably due to its depiction of goo wak jai and triad rituals, areas of sensitivity for HK censors.

Cover art courtesy Intercontinental.

Image courtesy Intercontinental.

Image courtesy Intercontinental.

Back cover art courtesy Intercontinental.
Intercontinental/Celestial #610974 (Hong Kong label)

Dolby Digital 5.1

Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks (both post-synched)

Optional Subtitles in English, Chinese (Traditional or Simplified), Malaysian, and Indonesian

9 Chapters Illustrated in the Menu With (Tiny) Clips

Letterboxed (2.35:1)

Coded for Region 3 Only

NTSC Format

96 Minutes (at 25 frames-per-second)

Contains moderate violence, torture, and brief nudity

DVD menu courtesy Intercontinental.

Hong Kong: III
Ontario: R
Singapore: PG
Australia: M15+

Released in the first batch of Celestial titles last December, THE TEAHOUSE looks good in this digitally enhanced transfer. Light stains are occasionally evident, along with some DVNR-induced jitter, but colors generally look fresh and the image is attractive. There is slight curving at the edges of the frame but this is a flaw inherent in the Cinemascope (or Shaw Scope, as we know and love it) lens used and not a fault of the presentation. Thankfully, the 5.1 re-mix is not as annoying as that given to some of the other titles thus far, with only some background noise in the teahouse sequences and some extra loud flames during a fire calling attention to themselves. The translation is good but some of the English subtitles appear twice in a row (a problem that was reportedly fixed in time for the third batch of releases). The Special Features section provides access to detailed cast/character/crew listings (where were these things when I was writing my book?!), a synopsis (that covers the entire film), the original poster, original stills (presumably taken from lobbycards), brief production notes, and detailed bios/filmographies for Kuei, Chen, and Yeh. Video promos for this film, THE HEROIC ONES, HONG KONG NOCTURNE, TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR, and THE WARLORD are also included. Unfortunately, the original theatrical trailer for THE TEAHOUSE is not.

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