Bird-tossing right out of the gate. The sparrow looks like a finch, but I’m immediately happy that there’s even a bird and the title wasn’t a metaphor, though lbxd says it’s also slang for pickpocket. Back to that opening scene, Simon Yam is smiling too much and gliding around his artfully lit apartment like he’s in a musical, which nicely sets the tone for this movie, a HK crime flick where nobody gets killed and the climax is a wordless slow-mo umbrella dance. Johnnie To gives Throw Down fans another romantic balloon incident, and uses some kind of wide-angle lens distortion throughout. It looks and moves differently than his others, light on its feet, and a movie about a pickpocket gang gives him ample opportunity to show off his mastery in staging and visual design. Perfect movie.

Kelly and sparrow/finch:

Simon, Bo, Sak, Mac:

The Girl is Kelly Lin – she and the protege pickpocket Ka Tung Lan are returning from the previous year’s Mad Detective and Triangle. Lead dude Simon Yam was Lok in the Election series. Pickpocket Mac (the one with the busted head) has had some small roles, and Sak with the glasses is To’s assistant director and editor, who would later make a Donnie Yen movie about ancient warriors time traveling to modern-day HK. Suet “Fatso” Lam works for Kelly’s boss/captor Mr. Fu, and the umbrella showdown pits his skills against our guys’ for her freedom.

It’s unwise to watch more than two Italian horrors per SHOCKtober, but this caught my eye at Videodrome, and it’s been years since anything caught my eye at Videodrome since we haven’t lived close enough, so I rented it to celebrate being able to spontaneously pick movies off shelves again, rather than relying on my premeditated lists. Surprise: it’s really good. Almost seems like a parody of previous Italian horrors – “woman in a strange new house discovers gateway to hell in her basement” is the plot of half these things, and this one adds a Rosemary’s Baby element, with supernatural cultists enlisting the unwilling woman in their rituals.

If you see something suspicious in an Italian horror, always put your eyeball reeeeeal close to it:

Starts off shaky, with a mad prophet stumbling in from the desert, meeting some hippies, mis-quoting a Rolling Stones lyric to each other, making me wonder if the song was translated into Italian and back – then when night falls there’s a hippie slaughter, and I realize after Race With The Devil, I’ve accidentally programmed a satanist double-feature. In Germany years later, a balding dude follows a woman home and kills her, “why did you disobey?,” then on the subway a pickpocket pulls a human heart out of the balding dude’s jacket, and this is already crazier with more visual imagination than the other satanist movie.

A straight plot summary seems wrong for such a mad movie, but I’ll try, Kelly Curtis hits an old man with her car (Herbert Lom, Walken’s doctor in The Dead Zone), takes him home where his insects impregnate her with the devil, then he dies after a rabbit knocks over his meds, leaving behind a sentient death-shroud. Kelly is attacked by the reanimated body of her knife-murdered friend. A hot doctor helps her out, investigates the subterranean cult beneath her house, somehow ends up dying in an auto explosion, and the mom apparently survives the same fire, saved by her devil-baby. Whatever nonsense is happening, the camera is always up for filming it in bold color, with roving movements or in extreme close-up. There is bird tossing, voicemail from a dead man, a metal coffin unsealed with a can opener, a stork attack, a face transplant, and a basement with a skylight.

Couldn’t enjoy this as much as I should because I was in a weird state of mind, but it’s supremely entertaining, recalling Bound in its story of fortune-seeking men double-crossed by crafty female lovers.

The first half is told from the perspective of Sookee (Tae-ri Kim), a pickpocket working for handsome Jung-woo Ha (Ki-duk’s Time), who has his eyes on bigger marks, posing as a Count and getting Sookee hired as handmaiden to Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim of Right Now, Wrong Then). The plan is to convince the Lady to marry the Count, then commit her to an institution and share her wealth, but Sookee is double-crossed and committed instead. The second part follows the Lady, who lives with her book collector uncle (Jin-woong Jo, only 40 but given gray hair and mustache) at his increasingly sinister estate, revealing her own moments and motives, some of which I’ve now forgotten because it’s been a very long month, but it’s an audacious and elegant movie and when it comes out on video I’ll happily get lost in it again.

Well-presented to English speaking audiences with Japanese and Korean dialogue in different colored subtitles. This is the year of Hokusai – first the animated biopic, then his wave appearing in Kubo and his porno octopus in this movie. I double-featured this at the Alamo with a 35mm screening of Possession, which was completely incredible and now cemented as one of my favorite movies, and which also features a porno octopus.

July 2021: Watching this again. I get the sense from twitter that as a reaction to the joyless superhero movie landscape, an interest in pervy horny movies is back in style, just doing my part.

The “Count” is hired to forge rare books so millionaire porn collector Kouzuki doesn’t have to part with the ones he sells. Now I recognize The Lady Kim Min-hee from the Hong Sang-soo films – the other woman is Kim Tae-ri, who has since starred in a historical drama miniseries and a sci-fi movie, both on netflix.

The Count with Tae-ri:

The Count with Min-hee:

The Count being tortured to death by pornographer uncle Kouzuki:

One of my favorite 30’s movies – a sheer delight. Thief meets thief, they shack up, scheme to fleece rich woman, thief shacks up with her, love triangle ensues, thieves get away together in the end. Bookmarking naughty/cute scenes where the thieves impress each other by showing off the stuff they pickpocketed from each other during whatever they were doing together before the camera turned on.

Thieves Like Us: Miriam and Herbert

My two favorite people, maybe just out of recognition from The Smiling Lieutenant, were thief Miriam Hopkins (the princess of Flausenthurm) and major Charlie Ruggles (the friend from whom Maurice steals his modern girl). Miriam is really terrific… maybe I’ll check her out in Design for Living, Becky Sharp or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sometime. The lead male thief was regular-looking Herbert Marshall (star of Angel and Murder!, later in Angel Face and Duel in the Sun), the duped perfume CEO was dark-haired Kay Francis (of Scandal Sheet and The Cocoanuts), and another duped rich guy who, along with the major, is trying to marry Kay was Lubitsch regular Edward Everett Horton.

Great, sophisticated intro scene when the thieves first meet, both pretending to be some fake rich person in order to steal from each other. Actually I think the very first scene was E.E. Horton explaining to the cops how he got his wallet stolen by a fake doctor – in the end he publically identifies Marshall, now hired as Kay Francis’ assistant and lover. Miriam Hopkins is hired as a secretary so they’re both inside the house, but only get away with $100k and a pearl necklace instead of the intended $800k+.


Most interesting part of the movie was when rich (but goodhearted/generous) Kay is offering a high reward for her missing purse, having the forty-some purse-carrying hopefuls gather in her foyer, receiving them one at a time (each announced by the butler) in an upper-class, highly inefficient manner. A crazy-haired Russian-accented Trotskyite waits his turn, then comes in with no purse just to berate a woman who would spend so much on a purse during the depression, shouting “phooey, phooey and phooey” at her. This is when thief Herbert makes his opportunistic entrance, talking to the “radical” (as labeled in the credits) who then leaves peacefully but still angry. The radical is sort of a comic character, with his wild hair and repeated “phooey”s, but the movie seems careful not to ridicule him, and lets him have the last word, owning up to the fact that our main characters are too extravagant for their own good, voicing some of the resentment that audiences at the time must have felt. The Russian was Leonid Kinskey, who ten years later played one of Rick’s employees at the CafĂ© AmĂ©ricain in Casablanca.

Kay Francis threatened by communism:

Nice, well-researched audio commentary points out the title card (words displayed progressively over shot of a bed = “Trouble In [Bed]”) and tons more. Beginning of 1930’s Month for Katy and myself starts with a bang.

Naughty Lubitsch:

EDIT 2016: Eight years later, Katy does not remember 1930’s Month, nor this movie, so we watched it again.