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Even though Me Me Lai's filmography amounts to hardly a dozen films, it
could hardly be any more colourful:
Me Me Lai's films include straight
horror, sex films, the most lurid of exploitation cinema, arthouse - and
gameshows - and over the years (especially after her early retirement) she has become something of a cult icon.
Born in Burma in 1952 to an English father and a
Burmese mother, Me Me Lai entered the film industry in the early 1970's,
playing supporting roles in such series as Paul Temple or Jason
King. Around this time, Me Me started out as a TV co-hostess, in
shows like The Golden Shot - a call-in show in which the
caller has to direct and shoot a crossbow - and the quiz show Sale of the Century.
her TV-fame led to roles in the movies, like the horror film Crucible
of Terror (1971, directed by Ted Hooker), in which she had very
little screentime (but did a nude scene nevertheless), and the sex comedy Au Pair
Girls (1972, Val Guest).
Mainly, Me Me was chosen for these early
roles to lend some exotic touch to the proceedings, and because she would
do nudity, both traits that would be indispensible in her next film, Il
Paese del Sesso Selvaggio/Deep
River Savages (1972) by Umberto Lenzi [Umberto
Lenzi bio - click here].
Taken by its own
merits, Deep River
Savages might seem like nothing more than a well-made but sleazy
violent jungle adventure, but eventually the film would be granted a place in
(exploitation-)cinema history for being the first Italian cannibal movie - even
if actual cannibal scenes are kept to a minimum (but are quite explicit at
that). And what's more, the film would be Me Me Lai's career-defining
In the film, Me Me plays a jungle beauty who falls for a white
man her tribe has captured, and makes him fall for her as well. Eventually the two marry and she gets his baby ... but dies at childbirth
thanks to her tribe's evil witchdoctor. The white man in the film is
played by Ivan Rassimov, someone who would co-star again with her in
subsequent films ...
Just as the cannibal genre, Me Me Lai's
career would lie dormant for a few years, but in 1977, both would hit back
with a bang, and that bang was called Ultimo Mondo Cannibale/Jungle
Holocaust by Ruggero Deodato [Ruggero
Deodato bio - click here].
Essentially, Jungle Holocaust
follows pretty much the lines of Deep
River Savages, again a white man is somehow captured by a
primitive tribe, and again he befriends a savage girl ... the savage girl
is of course Me Me Lai, the white man is this time played by Massimo
Foschi, but Deep
River Savages' lead Ivan Rassimov can be seen here as the second lead.
from the earlier film though is that this time around the primitive tribe themselves are the
cannibals, and our white man does not adopt to their ways, rather forces
Me Me to help him escape, and the romance
between white man and savage girl, played out in full in Deep
River Savages, is only hinted at here.
... and poor Me Me has a
particularly gruesome death scene in this one, as her chest is torn open
in gory detail and her organs ripped out, replaced by burning coal. Now
this is a movie that set new standards in screen violence ...
Me's third and final excursion into the cannibal genre, Mangiati
(1980), again directed by Umberto Lenzi [Umberto
Lenzi bio - click here], is also the weakest of the three:
It's a sensationalistic little film that tries to blend the cannibal genre
with (then current) news of the Jonestown Massacre - to unintentionally
hilarious results. The film is high on sleaze - e.g. Me Me Lai has to
perform sex with three men on the ashes of her dead husband in front of a
large crowd -, but the budget was rather low, so many scenes were re-used from
both Deep River
Savages and Jungle Holocaust,
to an extent that Me
Me's death scene was lifted from the latter.
Once again, Ivan
Rassimov - as the Jim Jones-like cult leader - is Me Me Lai's
co-star in this one, but they only have very few scenes together this time
So ok, altogether Me Me Lai did only star in 3 cannibal
movies, but somehow her exotic beauty, her somewhat naive facial
expression and not at least her willingness to appear in the nude and do
sleaze made her a natural, perverted 1970's style jungle princess, an icon of the
cannibal genre and maybe - besides constant co-star Ivan Rassimov -
the only face identifyable with the cannibal film.
cannibal genre, though, Me Me Lai's career did not really take off, she
had a role in Revenge of the Pink Panther directed by Blake Edwards
in 1978, but neither was the film one of the better films of the Pink
Panther-series - that lead Peter Sellers was gravely ill during
filming did certainly not help -, nor was her role - that of a Chinese
hooker - big enough to get her much attention.
Licensed to Love and
Kill (1979), in which Me Me played a rather small supporting role in
an illustrous (not really) cast, was one of director Lindsay Shonteff's ill-fated attempts of
to cash in on the James Bond series. And while the film
might be funny at times, it can hardly be called remarkable, and it was
not much of a success neither.
Me Me Lai's most important film came in 1984, the Danish production Forbrydelsens
Element/Element of Crime by the then unknown director Lars von
Essentially, Element of Crime
might be best described as a
psychedelic murder mystery, and Me Me plays one of the lead's (Michael Elphick)
many leads, a prostitute who was somehow involved with the killer and now
becomes involved with the detective who's after him. Although Lars Von
Trier intended the film to be merely a variation on the murder mystery
genre, it was enthusiastically welcomed by the arthouse crowd, and the
rest, as they say is history: From Element of Crime
onwards, director Lars von Trier has virtually shot to fame,
being (at times however) considered as the most important European
filmmaker, and eventually he wound up filming with the likes of Nicole Kidman and Björk.
Me Me Lai on the other
hand, quit the film business soon afterwards, and has since vaned into
obscurity. Today even her
whereabouts are unknown.
In retrospect, Me Me Lai might be best
described as an icon of her time, of the anything-goes underbelly of the
1970's, when one still could be several things at once: Queen of sleaze
and exploitation, mainstream gameshow hostess and artfilm actress.