From Nomad to An Amorous Woman, Shaw Brothers pass off Pat Ha as the next sensation in their arthouse erotic movie. Stephen Tan reviews.

THE ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW

Filmmaker Chu Yuan must have surprised and shocked Asian movie audiences when he not only had two women kissing but having sex on screen in Intimate Confessions Of A Chinese Courtesan in 1972. Twelve years on, two women having sex on screen isn't such a big deal anymore.

By then, Shaw Brothers' erotic movies could be said to have bloomed and now were heading towards their twilight years so An Amorous Woman Of Tang Dynasty (1984) could be seen as part of the last-minute attempts to cash in on the genre. What the movie has going for it is a relatively fresh face in Pat Ha and New Wave writer/director Eddie Fong.

 

Pat Ha shot to prominence in Patrick Tam's New Wave movie Nomad (1982) but it is likely that she became well-known after An Amorous Woman. Ha is not exactly a statuesque beauty nor is she as voluptuous as Shirley Yu. But in An Amorous Woman, she is so lovingly photographed she hasn't looked as gorgeous since. Sure there is a good bit of skin to be seen - Ha appears in the nude in several scenes - but mostly she is decorously covered (it is the supporting cast and bit players who bare all, almost). Still, Ha is considered daring to take on a role that might be seen as controversial.

Ha is poet Yu Yuan Gi, the literary genius of Changan city, who decides to enter a Taoist monastery so that she can lead an independent life. Out swimming one evening, she meets swordsman Tsui Pok Hau (Alex Man) and the two begin a steamy affair.



Alex Man could have been selected for this movie based on his hunky looks and his fiery sex scene with Cherie Chung in Hong Kong Hong Kong the previous year. As if to make up for lost time, Man has enough sex here to last several movies. The coupling does not last as the swordsman has a wander lust and Ha is soon left on her own. In frustration, she turns on her maid but the two are forced out of the monastery when they are found having sex.

While Ha may be up to the challenge of her role, she is let down by the character she plays which isn't fully fleshed out. At first, she appears independent (as the role demands) - this is a woman who refuses to accept handouts but is willing to use her body to earn her upkeep (she hires herself out to a man who is into whipping women to get his high).

 

But then, this "modern" outlook does not mesh with the proprietary manner in which she treats her maid Lu Chiao (Monica Lam) - on the surface the poet says she does not look at Lu Chiao as a maid but as a girl. The movie would have been more interesting if there is a real attraction between the two but there is nothing there except the physical sex to titillate the senses. As it is, the maid is someone for Ha to use. Secondly, Pat Ha's character needs further refinement if the audience wants to understand her crime of passion when Lu Chiao refuses to abort her baby and intends to return to her village to settle down.

On an even more simplistic level, the viewer ends up asking: who does this "modern" woman really want to seduce - the swordsman; swordmaker Auyong; the Taoist priest who is attracted to the maid; the maid herself - and why is she doing all these things? Or is it because as a "modern" woman, she is expected to take the lead in the seduction process? And then, if the idea of sex between two women is so controversial and taboo-breaking, why isn't it more strongly condemned? In fact, the opposite happens - under the hands of a band of robbers, the poet and her maid had to act out their "crime" in public.

 

Screenwriter/director Fong tried to create a tragic heroine but a tragic heroine can only arise depending on how she acts and reacts to difficult situations. Ha's Yu Yuan Gi seems to float through her tribulations and nothing either scars her or intrudes into her consciousness. Outwardly she emotes but (tragically) those feelings never resonate with the audience.

Visually, the film looks like an exquisitely photographed Japanese movie (Pat Ha has her hair done in Japanese style; the characters sit on tatami-floor and the flute on the soundtrack recalls a kabuki play). It is no surprise that the film won the Best Art Direction award at the 1984 Golden Horse Awards. Interestingly, if the sex in the film is forceful, the action sequences are equally as brutal, featuring more beheadings than some so-called swordfighting epics.

In 1995, Fong would script another foray into arthouse cinema with Temptation Of A Monk. Directed by Clara Law, the film - much like An Amorous Woman - relied on artistic design; titillating visuals and a promise of great sex but let down by a weak screenplay.

Fans of An Amorous Woman might want to track down a rumoured three-hour Taiwanese print of the film but then again who really needs to sit through that?

Note: The Amorous Woman Of Tang Dynasty DVD is not available in $ingapore.

Other Asian Values DVD Reviews:

Hong Kong Hong Kong
Kiss Of Death
Crazy Sex
Forbidden Tales Of Two Cities
The Call Girls





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