Cutting past all of this BS, Charlie Cho is one of the very best onscreen perverts that the world has ever known. An actor who has, outside of his perverted roles, performed in several high quality projects, his sparse Western fanbase rallies behind him not for his role in Jackie Chan’s Police Story, but instead for the incredibly cheap sex comedies that he made during the 1990s. These movies were ludicrous and obscene in most regards, but they dominated the Category III film market during the late 80s-to-early 90s. For those who are unaware, Category III, or CAT III, is a cinematic rating within Hong Kong. It’s nearest equivalent would be the 18 rating within the UK, or NC-17 within the USA. In the West, the best known films from this category would be the various extreme crime thrillers that have become cult favorites. Films such as The Untold Story, Ebola Syndrome, and Dr. Lamb have all had plenty of time dedicated to them, but Hong Kong sex comedies have unfortunately been left, mainly, for the superfans. Within this genre, there are several notable “cocksmen” who deserve mention. Stuart Ong, Lee Chung-Ling, and Elvis Tsui are all actors who made numerous films within the CAT III market, specializing in films about seduction, stupidity, and obsessing over breasts. However, of all these actors, one man stands out as king. That man is Charlie Cho Cha-Lee.
Little is known in the West about Charlie, outside of his actual career in movies. There has been decidedly little clamor for his films here in the West, so that means that few writers have compiled information about the actor. Thankfully, with a tremendous amount of help with translation by my good friend Sylvia over at ActionLand.org, we have compiled a decent amount of data via an interview he did in 2011 with a publication known as Southern Entertainment Weekly (article is in Chinese). Although there is still much to know about this crazy world of CAT III wild men, at least we can get to know the face of this movement a little better.
Charlie Cho actually began his acting career with the famous Shaw Bros. film studio. This stint was very short, however, and was his claim to fame for only a brief period of time. The comedic actor actually held several jobs before heading into showbiz. His original goal in life was to be a police officer, but his family talked him out of taking such a dangerous job. Instead, at 19, he started work in the prestigious world of air conditioner repair. Looking for bigger and better things, he got into stocks, and even got into collecting debts for a meat company that he worked for. In describing one of his debt collections, Charlie said, “I went all by myself to this very large well-known company to collect money, it was me by myself in that market – too terrible [dangerous].” This job, of course, was not meant to last. Getting away from this dangerous world, Charlie stumbled upon acting when he began to work for ATV Asia. Working for this television studio, it wasn’t long before he started popping up in feature films. He worked steadily throughout the 80s, even stepping into roles that are very similar to the sleazeball stereotype that he would become best known for later within his career, but it wasn’t until 1991 that he was completely typecast within this very specific type of role. It was within this year that he made three films with Veronica Yip. Take Me and Pretty Woman appear to have been successful outings, but Hidden Desire stood out as the big hit within Hong Kong. This movie would manage to nab Charlie tons of work over the next few years, and help define his career in many regards.
The CAT III market was exploding during the early 90s, and Charlie was riding the wave. Audiences were getting a kick out of libido-driven humor, and there were few men who were wholly capable of portraying insatiable perverts that could still elicit a few good laughs. This was Charlie’s gift, to be sure. His persona was that of a weasly man who could be unsettling if he needed to be (see China Dolls (1992), where Charlie plays a slave trader of sorts), but could also stand out as a rather charming individual. Charlie Cho’s knack for the adult-comedy market made him an instant star. Between 1992-1993, Charlie made more than 40 CAT III rated films. When speaking about the speed of these productions, Cho was quoted as saying, “At that time, CAT III films were shot very quickly; ten days for a film. My part would be 5-6 days. I’d work on an average of three films a day. Because it sold tickets at the box office, the name “Charlie” made money.”
Charlie Cho in My Neighbours are Phantoms (1990)
Indeed, the name Charlie did indeed make money. This man, during his career, starred alongside celebrities such as Donnie Yen, Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung, and Jackie Chan. However, it was the CAT III market that brought him his greatest finances. On his earnings, Charlie said that the money was “okay,” but in nearly the same breath he also stated that he “… bought a house pretty quickly.” Charlie was a daily worker, as opposed to salary. So, working on three films per day, he was able to make exponentially more than some of the other actors within that market. His roles were not ones that would be the envy of most actors. A dimwitted, sex obsessed businessman is not something that one would find in a major string of films, but Charlie filled a void that was somehow necessary during this period.
Charlie was placed in these highly sexual films and he played an amplified version of every horny guy on the planet. While there are numerous breast-obsessed weirdos in the world of CAT III sex comedies, few could match the bizarre charisma found in Charlie Cho. A great example of Charlie’s odd charm comes in the film My Neighbours are Phantoms (1990), a surprisingly non-CAT III item in his filmography, which finds Charlie consoling himself with a stack of pornographic magazines after, essentially, killing a man by throwing him from his vehicle. After he gets home, a home that is decorated with nude photos and mannequins of course, he proceeds to “peep” on his sexy neighbors. This involves several Benny Hill-esque gags that get progressively more elaborate. While in real life, this sort of psychosis would land a person in jail, in the world of Category III cinema, this sort of debaucherous behavior is treated as if it were second nature. No police are called, despite Charlie using an RC Helicopter to capture nude photographs of his neighbors, but this rampant silliness creates an atmosphere of beautiful stupidity. Is it misogynist? Absolutely. This character views women solely as wet spots that he can unleash himself upon, but his lack of wits or intelligence somehow evens out the playing field.
His work is decidedly low class, and his filmography is solely for the select few who dare to venture into the wacky world of CAT III adult comedies, but Charlie Cho represents the idealized cinematic pervert. As an actor, he was unabashed when stripping down to his tighty whiteys, and ultimately his work continues to live on. His films inhabit a strange universe that many film-goers are not familiar with. His sexual adventures, alongside other cocksmen such as Elvis Tsui, Lee Chung-ling, and Stuart Ong, they have a very special place in the history of Asian cinema. If you’ve never seen Charlie onscreen, great places to start would be False Lady, in which he has a secretary named Milka who provides him with fresh daily milk for his coffee… in the most perverted fashion possible, Love is Over (1993), where Charlie gets naked with numerous women while also sharing the screen with Lee Chung-ling, Pauline Chan, and Stuart Ong, and then either the aforementioned China Dolls, where you can see a sadistic Charlie Cho do awful things with a handful of butter and a popsicle stick, or Devil of Rape (1992). While Devil of Rape is hardly what one should consider to be a “good” movie… it does have Charlie Cho possessed by a ginseng root, running around in his tighty whiteys, and then farting out an animated bolt of light from his anus.
If you’re not clued into it by this point, Charlie Cho’s cinematic library is filled with some fairly amazing movie moments. When he is at his best, as a performer, he has the ability to engage an audience. Either through his over-the-top performances or through his lack of inhibition, Charlie grabs his audience. Now, it can’t be stressed enough just how very niche this audience can be, because on must be able to tolerate the content of these debaucherous films first of all, but if you have the taste for it, this is a world of film that has unfortunately been buried for only a few scavengers to come across. While Charlie Cho’s prime may be behind him, he has left behind a smorgasbord of filth to be enjoyed by each and every reader of this. If you think you are a brave enough soul to enjoy these sordid creations, then your quest should begin this very day. Enjoy!
Editor’s Note: Once again, Sylvia over at actionland.org must be thanked a million times for her help in putting this article together. She went far and above what was asked of her. Without her translations, this article would have been guided solely by random guesses. Thank you, Sylvia, yet again!