Tuesday, 9 August 2011


"Based on a true story” THE GIRLS OF THE WHITE ORCHID first premiered as a TV movie during the fall of 1983 on NBC. I was already aware of Jennifer Jason Leigh, having seen her as an anorexia victim in THE BEST LITTLE GIRL IN THE WORLD two years prior, not to mention having witnessed her losing her onscreen virginity in the 1982 super hit FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, that also featured LACE Phoebe Cates in that infamous shedding of a bikini scene. Needless to say, I was intrigued by this tale of an aspiring singer who goes to Japan thinking that she could be the next big thing but ends up being a singing prostitute and prisoner instead. THE GIRLS OF THE WHITE ORCHID had all the right ingredients for sleazy viewing: sex, hookers, debauchery… Little did I know that I would like it so much as to wind up talking about it almost three decades later on a blog such as this one.

Directed by THE ACCUSED Jonathan Kaplan, THE GIRLS OF THE WHITE ORCHID takes its time to get to the action, and that’s okay since the quiet scenes are wisely intermingled with the raunchy ones from Japan. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays good girl Carol who, in between her waitressing job, goes to auditions in the hopes of being discovered. She’s a singer/ songwriter, you see, and though she has little talent in both areas, the film wants you to believe that she does. Numerous times we hear praises like “You’re such a good singer”, “She’s great, isn’t she?” as we beg to differ. Sort of like Bette Midler’s over-praised beauty in the tearjerker STELLA. Anyway, to make a long story shorter, Carol hits the jackpot when answering an ad for wanted performers in Japan. We all know she’s getting screwed just by the way the promoter behind the ad looks and acts—sort of like a dollar store pimp who thinks he’s more than that—but especially when she agrees to sign the contract written in Japanese (!) without batting an eye.

So out goes little Jennifer to East Asia where she meets Ann Jillian who’s the main attraction at the club where our heroine will “perform”. For those clueless of who Miss Jillian is, Ann was sort of a mini sex symbol in the ‘80s, having made a name for herself in TV hits such as IT’S A LIVING and later on in the ANN JILLIAN STORY in which she chronicles her true battle with cancer. In THE GIRLS OF THE WHITE ORCHID, however, she battles a series of sex-starved oriental males and a madam from hell (the great Carolyn Seymour shown above) while stripping and befriending little Jennifer.

In films such as this one, there is always a secondary character who comes to be known as the sacrificial lamb. You know, the one to whom everything will not come up rosy; whether it’s the recently departed Jeff Conaway in THE MAKING OF A MALE MODEL as an over-the-hill model; or Mark Singer in FOR LADIES ONLY as an over-the-hill male stripper; or more recently Sandra Bullock’s auto-destructive rehab roommate Azura Skye in 28 DAYS. In THE GIRLS OF THE WHITE ORCHID Jillian is it, the main sufferer to little Jennifer’s plight. But thanks to her unfavorable outcome and the help of an on and off American boyfriend of little Jennifer who flies all the way to Japan to rescue her (that’s how much he loves her, people), our heroine will have an happily ever after ending after all, one that does not even involve singing.

THE GIRLS OF THE WHITE ORCHID became DEATH RIDE TO OSAKA for the VHS and, later on, DVD editions, with added scenes featuring nudity and topless dancing. Those yearning to see Jennifer or Ann in the nude, however, will be slightly disappointed as Ann only ends up making one PG rated striptease in the film first half. But viewers with plenty of exploitative flair will certainly have an eye full, as long as they can bare Jennifer’s off-key singing throughout. But rest assured, her vocals are much better here than they were in the gripping but deaf-toned 1995 GEORGIA. So that’s another big plus.


Until next post—Martin


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