Arguably the most popular sub-genre of exploitation films, women in prison movies (regardless of where they were made) generally have three main elements, which are; sadistic guards, sadistic inmates, and at least one young, innocent new inmate who was unjustly convicted and is confronted with the first two aforementioned elements.
The majority of Asian WIP (“Women-In-Prison” for those not yet with the program) movies come from Hong Kong and Japan. I’ve caught a few notable ones from other Asian countries, such as Taiwan and Thailand, but not really from South Korea, which is disappointing considering the lovely talent pool they have always had there.
It should go without saying that the following choice dozen have all one would come to expect in a WIP movie: catfights, sex (forced and consensual), various forms of torture, and of course, escape attempts …. because none of the ladies in these films are ever considered for parole.
1972’s Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion, which starred Meiko Kaji, was the first installment of Toei Studio’s “Female Prisoner Scorpion” series. Meiko began her career with Nikkatsu in 1965 under the name “Masako Ota.” She began going by Meiko Kaji in 1970, the same year she starred in the first of Nikkatsu’s “Stray Cat Rock” female teenage juvenile delinquent films. After the Stray Cat Rock series, Meiko went on to appear in the first four Female Prisoner Scorpion films for Toei. A good rundown of all the films in this series is here.
The Bamboo House of Dolls (1973) is a classic grindhouse gem from Hong Kong. In this one, the Japanese (who have invaded China) kidnap a group of nurses from a hospital and bring them to a concentration camp where they are subject to the usual torture, rape, and brutality that are the essential ingredients for any WIP movie. Adding a little something different to this mix is that a few of the the abductees are non-Asian, one in the form of tall, blonde Danish actress, Brite Tove, who did three Hong Kong exploitation flicks during her career.
Straflager der Geschändeten or Excessive Torture in a Female Prison Camp (as it’s known in English) is a 1983 Hong Kong film about Korean women in a Japanese prison camp during World War II when the Japanese still occupied Korea. Despite its title, the torture scenes in this one aren’t as brutal as in many of the others films of this genre. A pretty female cast here but I noted only three Korean names among them.
Another gem from Hong Kong, Women in Prison (1988) starred Carol “Do Do” Cheng (foreground), who was the most prolific and highest paid actress in Hong Kong during the 80s. A must for Cheng fans, she plays a first-timer, fighting to survive on the inside after being convicted of killing a bookie her boyfriend was indebted to.
Leave it to a Hong Kong studio to make a Women in Prison-Horror film. Among the cast of 1990’s Jail House Eros aka Haunted Jail, is busty B-movie icon Amy Yip. (No need to point out which one she is on the poster at left.) More tongue-in-cheek than the usual WIP films, this one has Amy and company being terrorized by the ghost of their former warden.
The producers of 1997’s Scorpion’s Revenge made sure to let it be know that they were the same guys who were bringing us the popular Zero Woman series of the same era. This film was a continuation of the 1970s “Female Prisoner Scorpion” franchise (see above) but the subsequent entries without Meiko Kaji didn’t achieve the same cult status as the original four. The poster at right features star Yoko Saito, who not only bears a striking resemblance to 90s Japanese B-cinema icon, Cheiko Shiratori (whom I would have loved to see in one of these roles), she also resides in the “Whatever Happened to ..?” file, alongside her.
The lone Thai-made film in this entry, Final Detention (2003) involves ladies on an island penal colony who undergo some unusual forms of “rehabilitation” that serves only to please the sadistic guards. Seeing it as their only option to ever leave to island alive, the girls undertake a risky escape. Thai-based Japanese actress Yoko Takano, who stars in this one, took a public blood test in 2003 to put an end to gossip that she had contracted the AIDS virus, as a Thai entertainment tabloid had reported.
I addition to gravure idol and poster girl Aki Hoshino, Death Row Girls: Female Prisoner 1316 also features JAV idols Momo Izawa, Emi Kitagawa, and Ami Sakurai. Aki is Misaki Sayama (prisoner 1316), transferred from another prison to “The Island,” a military facility where condemned female inmates are sent to be trained as government spies. If they make the cut, they get to live. Yeah, I know; cute Aki and company sure weren’t typecast for these roles.
Prisoner No. 07: Reina (2006) features Hanako Nanjô as Reina, a reporter who commits a crime to intentionally get herself thrown in prison in hopes of finding her missing sister, whom she believes is serving time. Once on the inside, Reina finds out that the inmates are subject to a Battle Royal type of survival competition in order to earn their way out.
In addition to the usual horrors of prison, 2006’s Female Prisoner Sigma (with Shôko Hamada in the title role) has a supernatural element to it. In the words of Switchblade Pictures press release; “the inmate known as Sigma must face a fate beyond her worst nightmares; something far more terrifying than anything the brutal guards and corrupt wardens could imagine.”
Another Switchblade Pictures release, Chain Gang Girls (2007) stars half-Japanese, half-Taiwanese actress Li Mei Chan, supported by a cast of other equally beautiful girls, as convicts within Japan’s toughest female penitentiary. As with most WIP films, despite the rough conditions, catfights, and torture the ladies have to endure, they always remain remarkably camera ready.