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Confessions of an Opium Eater (1962)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Confessions of an Opium Eater (1962) (aka Souls for Sale)

In Albert Zugsmith's unconventional, low-budget and bizarre exploitational cult classic with a predominantly Asian cast, and the campy performance of Vincent Price - inspired by Britisher Thomas De Quincey's 1821 classic Confessions of an English Opium Eater:

  • the ominous opening sequence - the arrival and landing of a Chinese junk in a gray fog off the San Francisco coast in 1902 -- the ship was carrying kidnapped and captive Asian females dumped into a giant fishing net (they were "Chinese brides" bound for the underworld, labyrinthine sex trafficking-slave trade in SF's Chinatown, using opium as currency); there was a rotting skeleton wrapped in seaweed on the beach; their arrival sparked a five-minute action combat scene on the beach between the kidnapper-pirates and a rescuing Coast Guard raiding party; all of the conflict was due to the ongoing Tong Wars
  • the protagonist: 19th century adventurer and opium fiend Gilbert De Quincey (Vincent Price), had arrived in San Francisco as a mercenary from China; he had been hired by evil and mysterious drug lord Lin Tang to retrieve excaped female sexual slave Lotus (June Kim) from the previous beach scene who had been dragged away and was secretly hiding in the offices of the Chinese Gazette - a progressive, anti-slave trade newspaper led by crusading editor George Wah (Richard Loo) (who was presumed murdered at the beach)
Ruby Low
(Linda Ho)
Gilbert De Quincey
(Vincent Price)
Ruby's and De Quincey's Wrist Tattoos
  • the sequence of De Quincey's meeting with Tang's sinister second-in-command femme fatale dragon lady Ruby Low (Linda Ho) (who was ultimately revealed to be a double agent) - the two were connected by a wrist tattoo (a moon serpent) that indicated sympathy with the slavers: "There is a devil in the drunkard and a ghost in the poet. Devil and drunkard, ghost and poet was I. But once to every man there comes a premonition of destiny. In that first instant of her image passing the lenses of my eyes, I felt that I was hanging in the immensity of space, and she was floating with me. Chained, locked inextricably together: arms, brains, heart pulsations, unable to free, unable to break apart. Sinking, sinking through the inexhaustible depths of time. I forgot the long journey by the sea. I forgot the pain. I forgot my mission. Was it the heavy, drifting perfume of the incense or some feverish fantasy searing my brain? Whatever it was, as I looked at her for a heartbeat, I knew whoever she was, whatever she might be, this woman had to be a kind of fate for me" - as Ruby lit a funerary candle, Gilbert borrowed her match for his cigarette, causing her to scowl at him: "I am not sing-song girl to light cigarette!" - he replied: "Sorry, I got carried away"
  • the rescue sequence of Lotus hiding in the newspaper building - Gilbert and Lotus fled through a hidden door and down an elevator shaft to the subterranean sewers, where they were confronted by Lin Tang's thugs and Gilbert was struck with an axe and then knocked out with a board and left for dead, while Lotus was taken by the slavers; after awakening in the deep underworld - Gilbert's hallucinatory return from the dead - he trekked up stairs and then through a trap door to discover a Chinatown warehouse and dungeons, where there were suspended bamboo cages imprisoning two emaciated-starved women, including Lo Tsen (Caroline Kido) and dwarf-midget Child (Yvonne Moray) - they had previously been sold as courtesan sex slaves in Lin Tang's flesh market; after taking a circuitous route (a hall, stairs, and many doors, etc.), Gilbert entered a bath house and finally came to an opium den through a toilet cubicle
Gilbert's Hallucinatory Sequence
Chinese mask
Severed hand
Ruby and Open-Jawed Crocodile
  • the bravura sequence beginning in the opium den where he rested on a bunk-bed and puffed on one of the bamboo opium-drug pipes, becoming deliriously hallucinatory in a reverie - with laughter on the soundtrack (and a montage of death imagery, including distorted and warped shots of a Chinese mask and sea of faces, a crawling severed hand, a slithering python, the image of a human skull, and views of monstrous tropical animals, including a crocodile's open jaws merging into Ruby's open mouth): "From the dreams of the dark, idle, monstrous phenomenae move forever forward, wild, barbarous, capricious into the great yawning darkness, to be fixed for centuries in secret rooms. De Quincey, the artist? De Quincey, the pagan priest, to be worshipped, to be sacrificed. What is a dream and what is reality? Sometimes a man's life can be a nightmare; other times, cannot a nightmare be life? And the voices I heard, were they the voices of men, or of some strange imitation of men in some strange, writhing jungle of my imagination? Was this opium or was it reality? Was I dead? Or I was I only beginning to live?"
  • and the subsequent, marvelously-visual nightmarish chase out of the den while De Quincey was being shot at by pursuers - without sound and in slow-motion -- he crashed through a window, fell across a tiled roof, hung onto a gutter, and balanced precariously on the rooftop; there were more disturbing images (the decapitation of a pig by a white-hatted butcher, a squawking white cockatoo that was hit by bullets?); after being shot on a balcony, he fell and wildly spun to the ground as a cut-out - and then found himself at the end of the chase doused in the face with a bowl of water by Ruby ("You're a very clever man, but not clever enough")
  • the apartment seduction scene of the very sensual Ruby speaking to Gilbert - as the camera surveyed her movements, and then slowly came closer and closer to her lips: "We're alive! There is not many times in life, a man and a woman hear the call about eternity together. There is not many times in one life, a man and a woman find the other half of themselves. When I see you the first time, I felt it - as if, long ago, we whispered to the wind together, and the moon shone on us, and you and me..."; when they kissed, he grabbed her hair to fight her off, but she knocked him unconscious, and he found himself caged
  • throughout, Gilbert's many Confucian, Charlie Chan-isms, or fortune cookie aphorisms: "Open a passage to the East and we flow east. Open one to the West and we flow to the west," or "There is no poison in a green snake's mouth as in a woman's heart," or "Man's view of evil is like water boiling in box," or "Maybe you're the one who should find out whether you're a side of beef or a side of man" or "Somehow I think you wear more faces than there are stars in the gutter after the rain"
  • the lengthy grindhouse segment, when Lin Tang’s thugs forced the captive women to alluringly dance in front of their auctioneer purchasers (one of whom was a disguised George Wah - still alive!); one of the slave women had her wig torn off, revealing her baldness; and Ruby was revealed to be dressed up as Lin Tang after she lifted her costume to show her stiletto high heels
  • the downbeat ending - a battle against the captors by the main principals - and Gilbert's unsuccessful attempt to escape by fleeing back into the sewer, but struck with an axe, he fell into the sewer water with Ruby in his arms, and both were swept away and drifted downstream - with his concluding narration: "...all passion spent, all evil behind us, as once again I put out to sea, were these the widening waters of death, or the gates of paradise?"

Fishing Cargo Net

Rescue Attempt of Lotus

Bamboo Cages

Gilbert Puffing on Bamboo Pipe

Gilbert's Escape From Opium Den

Ruby's Apartment Seduction Scene

Grindhouse Segment

Gilbert Swept Away in the Sewer With Ruby


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