The Mistress

Reviewed by YTSL

The allure of money.  A promised life of leisure and luxury.  The power of love.  A fascination with sex.  The accompanying tendency -- not just capacity -- to erotically fantasize.  What and where they lead to.  What men like.  What women want.  What a person has versus what (others think and (s)he figures) (s)he deserves.  The different perspectives that come from being outside looking into vis-a-vis being fully immersed -- to the extent of effectively, albeit still metaphorically, drowning -- inside of a relationship or situation.  These topics and themes have been the subjects of myriad cinematic productions as well as many casual and intense discussions among friends and others.

Ray Lui, Jacqueline Peng ,Vickie Chen
Still, THE MISTRESS manages to find ways to creatively explore and imaginatively depict these and still other points and ideas (notably what are the attractions and frustrations of being a kept woman of a rich -- and, in this particular instance (and coming in the form of Ray Lui), good-looking, still in his physical prime and well-educated -- man in this day and age).  Along the way, the winner of the "People's Choice Award" at the most recent Deauville Film Festival ends up covering new ground as well as painting pictures so suffused with daring or innovation, or both, that I wager they will startle -- not just impress -- even the most jaded (Hong Kong) movie viewer (E.g., I don't know what would be more shocking and seem incongruous in most other "Eastern Hollywood" offerings, yet fit completely into this particular complex whole:  Pastoral dream sequences that look like they could have come out of "A Midsummer's Night Dream" or five minutes of film footage showing some of the movie's main characters actually attending -- but generally not comporting themselves in as uninhibited a fashion there as they are subsequently seen to do elsewhere -- an S&M party...).
Jacqueline and Moses Chan
And howzabout the following?  An artistically rendered scene in which men in dark suits and sunglasses coolly pick up and eat slices of sashimi off a naked -- but covered with tattooed images of such as octopi -- human female "plate"...which is presented as the visualization of details outlined in a conversation among a group of five friends...during which the women do such as enquire -- in a tone that is equal parts naive and skeptical -- where the wasabi and soy sauce are placed and won't the raw fish be unappetizingly warm, and the men ask their female friends whether they honestly think that those diners really give a damn about the temperature or taste of the food!  Yet I would be only half kidding when I state that there is so much more that is visually, aurally, intellectually and emotionally mind-blowing in this -- yes, definitely -- Category III rated but NOT pornographic work that if I were to seriously attempt to describe even one quarter of them, this review of THE MISTRESS would turn into a research paper length piece.
Perhaps the most astounding realization for me is that all the incredible images and ideas actually are being utilized to very coherently and movingly tell a story that its auteur, Crystal Kwok, obviously cares as well as surely has some real knowledge about.  More specifically, this (re)viewer gets the strong sense that THE MISTRESS of this film is someone who could quite easily be taken to be her alter-ego (industry newcomer Jacqueline Peng thoroughly convinces as a very bright, overseas educated university graduate with feminist views and a sexual appetite, who initially does not seem at all lacking in self-esteem and -confidence).  This makes it all the more disturbing, and painful, to see this bright spark try to play a game which men play well, only to end up faring worse than a Mainland Chinese woman (Vickie Chen's character has way more depth and believability than Gong Li's similar situated individual in "Mary from Beijing") who she had initially looked down upon and tried to counsel to do more with her life.
Such a summary of the film's plot and premise cannot adequately give a sense of how astounding the work is.  Hence my (also) trying to convey a sense of the wit, intelligence and honesty as well as the kind of (wide-ranging) aesthetic vision to be found in THE MISTRESS by way of writing a bit about the creative force behind this "must see to even believe exists" film. And for the record:  Yes, I was already shocked as to the incredibly sophistication of this work before I found out that it is the maiden effort as a director, producer, executive producer and -- with Susan Chan -- co-scriptwriter of a single individual who is not even 35 years old.
My astonishment got compounded upon learning that Crystal Kwok is a beauty queen turned prominent socialite whose previous cinematic dabblings have only been as a supporting actress -- and undoubted pretty face -- in such movies of an altogether different ilk as "Dragons Forever", "Police Story II", and the reputedly godawful "The Master".  And almost one week after being told of this, it still is difficult for my small mind to process that this same soul has also hosted a feminist radio talkshow and is the author of a Master's thesis on "Ghosts and Goddesses:  Women, Cinema, and the Image" along with popular publications with titles like "Babes and Bitches" and "Boys and Bastards" (My thanks to Hong Kong residents Sebastian Tse and Tim Youngs for providing me with these choice pieces of information).
Although this review is already long, I figured I ought to throw in some words from Kwok herself (The following comes from <http://www.astyle.com/Articles/crystalkwokpreview.asp>.  N.B. I really can't find too much else on the Internet on either this amazing(ly unheralded) film or its remarkable auteur).  So...On the local media's reaction to her making THE MISTRESS:  "They...think why would a female director explore a sexual topic...it is almost unladylike."  And what of the audience response to this female-centric work where women and men are definitely portrayed as (flawed) sexual beings?  "[I]nterestingly enough, the men who see the film are more fascinated by it, because they never see the female psychology.  They never see [women] thinking about their sexual issues...And you know damn well that there is [a] difference when a man is directing a love scene as opposed to a women"!

My rating for this film:  9.5.