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Movie Reviews

Rouge (Yin Ji Kau)  
Chinese Title: Yin Ji Kau
Director: Stanley Kwan

Leslie Cheung......... Chan Chen-Pang
Anita Mui................. Fleur
Emily Chu............... An Chor
Alex Man................. Yuen

Year of release: 1987

Hong Kong's "flower houses" brothels and night clubs of the 1930's were the playground of the young, bored and wealthy. Fleur (Anita Mui), an intelligent, beautiful, sophisticated and talented singer is one of the most sought-after courtesans in one of these bordellos (men literally pay hundreds just for the privilege of touching the skin of her calf or hand). She comes to the attention of a brash and dashing playboy, known as Twelfth Master Chan Chen-Pang, an heir to a family fortune. Because of the opposition from his family to their relationship, they decide to swallow opium in a suicide pact so that they could be together in the afterlife. In 1980's Hong Kong, Fleur wanders into the newspaper office and requests that Yuen, who works there, place a missing person's ad in the paper. For fifty years she has wandered in the afterlife, searching for Chan, but failed to locate him. Despite some initial misgivings, Yuen and his girlfriend An Chor decides to help her locate her missing lover.

Kwan treads a fine line between period melodrama and situational comedy, shown by the contrast between the stylised world of Fleur and Chang, and the bickering modern Chinese relationship of Yuen and Chor. Fleur's world, though it is one essentially of prostitution, is presented here as one which is highly sophisticated with its own codes and rituals of behaviour. It seems to be a world where the courtesans in some sense have more freedom and control than their "proper" counterparts, able to set down the rules of engagement and choosing their lovers while protected by their own bordellos. There is a sense of loss and nostalgia for this vanished world of manners when Fleur tours the places she used to frequent, and discovers that her place of work has become a kindergarten. Almost like an examination of human relationships, Kwan contrasts the simple old-fashioned undying love of Fleur for Chang, with the seemingly tulmultuous relationship of the human couple, though under the influence of Fluer, it becomes stronger and more honest. In the end, Fleur learns from Chor's independence to make a final decision of her own.

Given the right circumstances, I'm a sucker for melodrama, although curiously, I never found this movie descending into sentimentality. Kwan has always managed to bring to lush life a forgotten world of past decades, with cinematography and colour. Despite its risky balancing act between drama and comedy, I quite enjoyed this film.

Review by Eden.

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