Another Chinese classic gets a new make over - this time, Li Han-hsiang remakes his own Golden Lotus and spices it up with even more sex and nudity. Stephen Tan reviews.

THE ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW

Why does a filmmaker bother to remake a film he'd already done before? He would only do so if he has some drastically different ideas. In Li Han-hsiang's case, it's probably because of the money - either he was paid well to do it or he expected the film to make a good profit.

Li had made The Golden Lotus in 1974 under the Shaw banner. The film, based on a Chinese classic, starred the usual Shaw sexbombs at the time - Tanny Tien Ni, Chen Ping and Hu Chin (who played the lead character Pan Jinlian). Seventeen years later, in The Golden Lotus: Love And Desire, instead of the lead, Hu Chin is now the film's executive producer. But the biggest difference between the two movies is probably the amount of nudity and sex that is shown in this version - the Shaw movie was comparatively highly decorous when it came to nudity.

The story concerns Lee Ping Er, who is attracted to playboy Xi Menqing (Tan Lap Man, a TV actor who has appeared in a number of Category III movies, notably with the word "lotus" in the titles). Xi already has five wives but there's nothing to stop him from having a sixth. Jealousy looms when the Fifth Wife feels neglected and the situation is made worse when Ping Er (Wife No. Six) gives birth to a son.



It'd be nice to say that there is more to the story but this 1991 Taiwanese production is really nothing but an excuse to move from one sexual encounter to another. In many ways, this is really a guy's wet dream come true. For a start, the two lead women characters are horny as hell. Given half a chance, they'd fondle themselves and start masturbating on screen. Or even the elderly nursemaid, who appears in a swoon of ecstasy (a common acting tool in this movie) when she spies on a couple having sex. Needless to say, lots of groaning and moaning pervade the soundtrack.

A subplot concerns a cache of sex manuals (Chinese Kamasutras then) which the characters pour over religiously and then act out acrobatically. But the most usual stance seems to be one where one of the partners is tied up for some bondage sex.

For those who are concerned, any form of political correctness quickly goes out the window - women are second-class citizens in this movie. It's all right for the men to wander from bed to bed, but let the woman do it and she is stripped and beaten. But then, the make up leads to better sex (even for the audience as well), though not once do the women complain about the scars or the beating they had just received. And again, servants are no better than slaves and treated as sex objects when the master or mistress so desires.

Many Chinese erotic movies have an underpinning of morality but there appears to be none in this movie. Xi Menqing seems to have his cake and he's happily eating it - he practically gets away with murder and has no qualms abusing his wives and servants. So he losses his infant son, but in an act of revenge, he brutally kills a cat (so you animal lovers beware). Viewers who are used to seeing such a character get his comeuppance will not find any here - so much for any sense of justice in this feudal society.


 

Li Han-hsiang is well known for his epic productions and the film's opening might have hinted at something more. The film opens with a character in period costume talking on a handphone. The camera pulls back to reveal a film set with the director telling the cast how to move in a street scene. The film then "begins" with the street scene. If the filmmaker had followed this through, even if it is a blatant remake of The French Lieutenant's Woman with a film-within-a-film motif, the overall result might have been more interesting. On the other hand, the film shows two men experiencing impotence in the face of virile female sexuality - perhaps this is a damning comment on the futility of Li's filmmaking endeavour.

As it is, continuous sex can be draining and one longs for some sort of climax to the storyline - there is a build up but certainly not enough pay off. There is some mambo jumbo about "emptiness being sex" and "sex being emptiness" at the end but that touch of Buddhism seems more like a nod to Sex And Zen than any salient point made in the film. Where is that karmic reference when you really needed it?

Even if The Golden Lotus: Love And Desire is not a strict remake, Li Han-hsiang certainly knew his classics enough to mine them for what they're worth. Some viewers have pooh-poohed this movie for its lack of artistry but as an erotic movie that frequently strays into the soft-porn territory, you can certainly find worse or lesser fare for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Note: The Golden Lotus: Love And Desire DVD is not available in $ingapore.

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