The way of the flesh becomes a temptation for a monk while it is nothing but a curse for a mother and daughter who end up working in a brothel in Li Han-Hsiang's Moods Of Love. Stephen Tan reviews.


Li Han-Hsiang's Moods Of Love (1976) continues in the vein of the filmmaker's anthology format, in this instance, it's a two-hander.

The first story, set during the Sung Dynasty, has a wily magistrate (veteran actor Chiang Nan) setting out to prove that living buddha/monk Yueh Hua is no different from other worldly men and can succumb to temptations of the flesh.

Preferring to spend his time meditating, monk Yueh Hua appears aloof to magistrate Chiang Nan. In order to bait the monk, Chiang hires prostitute Shirley Yu, who pretends to fall ill at the temple. Complaining of bodily pains, which can only be stopped when a naked male body is pressed against hers [don't ask why], Yu begs the monk for help. Being a kindly soul, the monk agrees and the result is an exchange of bodhi fluid between the monk and the prostitute. The next day finds the monk dead in a state of satori. That very day, a voiceover explains, the magistrate's wife gave birth to a girl who later became a prostitute.

The karmic cycle continues in the second story, which is set during the Republican times. To look after her ailing husband, Chen Ping has no choice but to turn to brothel owner Wang Lai for help. After her husband dies, and with mounting debts, Chen agrees to work in Wang's brothel, leaving her daughter, Shaw Yin-yin, to study in a boarding school. After a while, Chen contracts a sexually-transmitted disease and is buried alive after Wang blotches a homemade attempt to cure Chen. Meanwhile, Shaw is raped by a teacher but because of her mother's debts, she has to work for Wang. Out on her own when she's no longer popular at Wang's brothel, Shaw meets Wang on the street one day and stabs the old woman to death.

In the mid to late '70s, filmmaker Li Han-Hsiang, noted for his classical period movies, churned out a number of soft-porn erotica for the House of Shaw.

In an interview with Hong Kong Cinemagic (, actress Shaw Yin-Yin comments on the filmmaker: "[Li] made low budget sex films to make money for Mr Run Run Shaw. Director Li's dream project was to make Ching Dynasty films. Mr Shaw told him, if he can find a way to him make lots and lots of money, he can do his Ching Dynasty films. So that's why at that time, they were made, due to the profit these sexy films made. The Ching films were highly expensive."

The key attraction to Li's erotic movies are the actresses who aren't afraid to strip and certainly Shirley Yu, Chen Ping and Shaw Yin-yin are big draws in Moods Of Love. And the prostitution profession is ideal since any sex and nudity will not be gratuitous. (Regulars such as Hu Chin and Tanny Tien Ni help too, though they do not appear in the nude.)

Unlike actor-turned-director Lui Kei who also made a number of soft-porn films for Shaw Brothers, there is a lot more thought into the script, set design and camerawork in Li's movies. As in Crazy Sex (1976), there is a memorable tracking shot of several brothel cubicles showing the various prostitutes at work (naturally with their clothes off).

Stripped off all the sex and nudity, Moods Of Love, especially the second segment, is highly melodramatic and recalls the films of Cantonese social critic actor Ng Chor Fan. While prostitutes are nothing more than chattels to be used and exploited, the film also highlights the ignorance surrounding sexually-transmitted diseases. The homemade cure Chen Ping had to endure can only be called savage and primitive - brothel owner uses a piece of heated porcelain to cut off the infected vagina (which takes place offscreen with only splashing blood for effect) and then sealing the wound with heated charcoal.

But it is Moods Of Love's first segment that is resonant today, it might even have influenced and given rise to that 1992 Amy Yip cult classic, Sex And Zen. While the religious always advocated celibacy, Li gave this a twist by saying that sex, even involving the religious, can be a sartorial experience. Of course, with the eye-pleasing Shirley Yu as a partner, who is practically nude for at least half her scenes, the results can be heavenly.

Note: The Moods Of Love DVD (IVL/Celestial) is banned in $ingapore.

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December 4, 2007


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