Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan Review
I don't know about you, but I like my smut properly dressed. A naked body is never enough on its own to invite me to consider it erotic, there needs to be an element of time and some process of revelation for such an image to work as arousal. A striptease is far more erotic than full frontal centrefold nudity, and even clothes can remain on for a sequence or image to seem sexy if the proper care has been taken with presentation and attitude. Modern times have allowed film-makers to show far more flesh and explicit acts, but a lot of "erotic" film-making has become obsessed with providing as much flesh and copulation as possible rather than arousing the viewer. A case in point is the great Chor Yuen's two attempts at the story he first filmed in 1972, Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan. The first film involves very little flesh from the main cast and mere sapphic kissing from the two leads, and his remake from 1984 is bolder in terms of acts and nakedness. Whilst the second film looks fine and is quite acceptable in terms of quality, the first film still retains a higher IQ and a greater ability to please the eyes and titillate the senses.
Any Chor Yuen film is usually dressed impeccably and filled to bursting with clever fight choreography, mystery, and often blood and carnage, and his 1972 incarnation of the story doesn't disappoint on any of these scores. In fact, part of the joy of any Yuen movie is that it is stuffed with elements that couldn't possibly fit into the running time in a western film, if it took Pirates of the Caribbean almost 9 hours to tell a very short story, Yuen could have done it in under ninety minutes and it would have been far better in terms of the battles, the babes, and the bawdiness. Here though, Yuen serves up the story of the vengeance of Ai Nu, a young woman kidnapped and forced into prostitution by the icy, and lesbian, Lady Chun.
Raped and beaten into submission, Ai Nu learns to hide her need for vengeance until she has the ability to carry it out, and, importantly, until she has bewitched her mistress. Not even the best efforts of the local police or Lady Chun's besotted henchman will stop Ai Nu once she gets her plan into action, and her revenge is against the powerful men who excuse the prostitution of Chun's brothel. She picks off each of her tormentors in turn, using their lust and vanity against them and flagrantly exhibiting her guilt in front of the exasperated police. Finally, her plan brings her back to the brothel and the woman who runs it, but has love developed in spite of vengeance?
Elegance drips from every frame of the film with impressive sets, wu xia like movement during the fights, and, of course, the beautiful Betty Pei Tei and Lily Ho at the centre of everything. This allows the plot to almost go unnoticed for its elaborate arc and the seemingly very stoppable murders proceed despite law and order and good sense. This, though, is to rather miss the point, that this is a film that you should look to for aesthetics and entertainment rather than enlightenment. If the mechanics seem unlikely, then you simply aren't enjoying the visuals enough.
And what images they are! Yuen constantly frames Ai Nu and Lady Chun as two halves or mirroring one another to emphasise their moral similarity and their romance. Although the nudity is kept to topless shots of supporting handmaidens, Yuen manages to suggest far more and a lot of it is still rather kinky today such as the post-whipping scene as Chun licks the blood from Ai Nu's back. The sets are concentrated on with erotic wall carvings zoomed and reverse zoomed to stress their dizzying possibilities, and wisps of diaphanous fabrics cover the women, almost. Yuen's mastery is marvellous to behold as he appreciates beauty before unleashing the savagery which will destroy it.
Given this was made back in the early seventies, a modern viewer might not appreciate the equation of lesbianism and corruption, especially as the film rather enjoys the lady on lady wrestling. Rather like the Hayes code, such "moral perversion" seems to get punished so that the nice heterosexual audience can go away feeling superior, and this is a tad hypocritical isn't it. Still, there I go again thinking rather than watching and if you can seduce your brain into neutral this is a sumptuous if guilty pleasure of blood and lust.
There are already a number of DVD releases for this film, and most of the recent R3 discs are PAL-NTSC conversions sourced from Celestial. It is an improvement on the transfer on my Thai disc with boosted contrast and improved sharpness, but still there are moments of combing and motion shake and the film has the same running time as the R3 discs which makes me suspect that this is again a standards conversion. Colours seem to bleed a little, especially the reds but this is warmer transfer than I think this film has got before and should be welcomed.
The two audio tracks are a rather good English dub and a very worn and a quite imperfect original Mandarin track. On the latter track, the Thai disc I own has far less distortion and pops and rumbling but may have different effects and music cues. The original track is distracting and takes some listening to. The English subtitles are well translated proper subs of the Mandarin track.
Intimate Confessions of 3 Shaw Girls is a French made featurette where Candace Yu, Shaw Yin Yin, and Lily Li remember the film and its remake. It is a frankly unremarkable piece where little is learnt and the remake is promoted beyond its merits. This is followed by a photo gallery of eight production stills from the film looped over 30 seconds. Much better is the shed load of trailers that come with the disc, I counted 30 which include 16 for Shaw titles with the rest being made up of such joyful looking titles as Exorcist Master, Angel of Vengeance and The Executioner. These trailers are wonderful and fans of the odd and strange will love watching them all, well done Image for presenting them all here.
A masterful looking film gets an ok transfer and a fair original language track. The unexpected joy of this release is the Image trailers which I would have paid for on their own but here come with a fine piece of sexy nonsense.