Monday, June 02, 2014


Our first film for AndressFest’14 was 'Les Tribulations d'un Chinois en Chine', or 'Tribulations of a Chinaman in China'. The film was marketed in English as 'Up to His Ears', which actually makes a lot more sense as a title, since the hero isn't Chinese and almost none of the action takes place in China. But having a title that bears no relation to the actual content of the film is a proud tradition in Bad Cinema, so this is only to be expected, given that 'Les Tribulations d'un Chinois en Chine' is worse than dysentery.

Millionaire Arthur Lempereur (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is a member of the idle wealthy, living on his yacht moored in Hong Kong Harbour. He is so overwhelmed with ennui that he spends his days attempting complicated suicides, such as cutting the brake cables on his Bentley and then driving it over a cliff. His manservant Leon and his mentor Mr Goh do their best to keep his spirits up, but it doesn't help that his fiancé, her mother and her mother's companion are shallow, empty-headed reminders of the futility of existence. Even the news that his vast fortune has been lost in a stockmarket slump doesn't rouse him much.

Faced with penury and wanting to die anyway, Arthur agrees to take out a short term life insurance policy, with a payout of a million dollars each for his fiancé and Mr Goh. Of course the policy would be void if he suicided, but Mr Goh offers to arrange a little "accident" some time in the next month. He'll be dead, and his nearest and dearest will be cared for, so this arrangement suits everybody.

Within a day, however, Arthur's life is turned around when he meets vivacious French stripper Alexandrine (our Ursula), whose kindly thoughtfulness and hot naked thighs make him realise that life is worth living after all.

But by this stage Mr Goh has already arranged the hit... then set off to a Himalayan retreat for a little holiday. And further complicating matters, the fiancé’s mother, upon learning of the scheme, has independently organised with a local crime lord to hasten the job. Soon every two-bit crook with a gun in Hong Kong is chasing Arthur, while he runs to preserve the life he suddenly, desperately wants.

'Les Tribulations d'un Chinois en Chine' was released in 1965, right at the peak of Ursula's career, and it's an odd choice for someone who'd been working with big name Hollywood actors, directors and writers over the previous twelve months. She has top billing, but apart from the last quarter of the movie she's almost absent from the screen. But then one of Ursula's charms (apart from the obvious ones) was that she was game for pretty much any role in any genre, from westerns to costume dramas to sci-fi... whatever put fondue on the table. So why not do a silly French caper movie, which could be knocked off in a couple of weeks and gave her a free holiday in Hong Kong?

Most of Ursula's role involved little more than her running away from gunmen and/or explosions and squealing girlishly. But the big draw card for most punters would have been her striptease scene. Unfortunately, however, the concept is so criminally wasted that it should be brought to the Hague as a Crime Against Testosterone. Ursula's strip act involves her appearing nude on stage (but for an artfully draped cape) and then gradually (and magically) acquiring more clothes. So it's not so much "stripping" as "dressing".

I'm all for creativity in the arts, but there are some foundational concepts in striptease with which one does not tamper. Taking the clothes off is one of them.

The movie ends with Arthur discovering that his fortune wasn't lost in a stockmarket slump after all... which plunges him right back into ennui so thick he makes Jean-Paul Satre look like a My Little Pony. One would think that having millions of dollars and an Ursula Andress would be enough to keep one's thoughts afloat, or at least preoccupied. But then one isn't French.

About the only good thing I can say about 'Les Tribulations d'un Chinois en Chine' is that at least it was made in 1965, when Ursula was 29 and hitting her peak hotness. Sadly our second film for AndressFest’14 was just as bad, but made eighteen years later.


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