Monday, May 10, 2010

Confessions of An Opium Eater

Confessions of An Opium Eater (1962) was produced and directed by Albert Zugsmith, who would later produce such films as Touch of Evil and Written On The Wind. The film stars the great Vincent Price as Gilbert De Quincey, a nineteenth century explore who finds himself in turn of the century San Francisco during the Tong Wars. The film takes its title from Thomas De Quincey's book of the same name, but that is about the only similarity between the two works, as the script by Robert Hill is a cross between a pulp novel and an exploitation film, laden with philosophical dialog.

Confessions of An Opium Eater is set in San Francisco in 1902 during the Tong Wars when Oriental women were still being sold as slaves by the drug lord Ling Tang who controls Chinatown and the opium trade. The film opens with a Chinese ship unloading its human cargo that is to be sold at a slave auction. A young woman named Lotus (June Kim) escapes, but is almost caught apprehend in her flight until a white steed manages to knock her pursuing captors off a cliff.

In Chinatown there are two opposing sides to the slave trade. There are those that support it, namely Ling Tang, and those that wish to abolish the practice such as George Wah (Richard Loo), who runs the Chinese Gazette. When Gilbert De Quincey arrives on the scene sporting a fierce moon serpent tattoo on his arm, we learn that he has been hired by Ruby Low (Linda Ho), who is the second in command in Ling Tang's gang, to hunt down and return Lotus. De Quincey finds Lotus hiding out at Wah's place, and upon seeing her decides to switch sides and help free her and the other women that are still being held captive by Tang. Unfortunately, slave traders are in hot pursuit of De Quincey and Lotus as they attempt to escape through the sewer tunnels. Soon the two are apprehended, Lotus is brought back to Tang, while De Quincey is beaten and left for dead.

Now is the point where this film gets truly weird. Gilbert De Quincey survives his beating and stumbles along the streets of Chinatown until he comes upon a warehouse where he finds half starved, suffering women suspended in cages. After he frees them, Gilbert finds himself in an opium den where he decides to indulge himself until he nods out in opiate bliss.

The rest of the film takes on the qualities of a trippy drug hallucination, complete with indulgent and ridiculous dialog. De Quincey is now on a mission to rescue more women and win the heart of Ruby Low, who turns out the be a working with both sides. De Quincey is now aided in his quest by a midget (Yvonne Moray) he freed earlier. The two manage to disrupt a slave auction and in the process free Lotus and make a break for it through the sewers with all the women that have been freed thus far.

Confessions of An Opium Eater is a truly bizarre movie that has everything one could hope for from a B movie. If you can past the terrible Asian stereotypes and at times annoying hallucination sequences, then this movie is definitely worth viewing. Of course, one also has to be in the mood for an obviously “bad” film. This one I feel falls into the category of the truly great terrible films, that should not be passed up on.

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