Lust for Love of a Chinese Courtesan

My interest was piqued recently when I found out that Asia the Invincible’s concubine in Swordsman II was the ex-wife of Chow Yun Fat and that she, Candice Yu On-on, had appeared in a scattering of films in the eighties. I was able to track down this intriguing title and found to my surprise that even though it’s not the type of film I would normally go out of my way to see, it was kind of a fun change.
Chor Yuen directed the film in 1984 for Shaw Brothers very near the end of their cinematic run (they were soon to move into television instead) and it has a slightly dated feel to it. Chor Yuen was a legendary and innovative director in the 1960’s and this melodramatic lush quasi-softcore period film seems much more in tune for the 60’s than in the 80’s. By quasi-softcore, I mean that though there are a number of love making scenes – there is no nudity – and the love scenes are almost nostalgically innocent from our perspective – full of clenched fists, choir music from a heavenly synthesizer, ecstatic looks on the women’s faces as if they had bought a new pair of shoes and lots of shots of flowers. I am not quite sure I got the significance of the flowers, but one scene that transposed a sword fight with two people making love and had the killing thrust coincide with an orgasm was corny but cute.
Candice runs a very high-class brothel in ancient China called Happy Valley and it is certainly full of happy customers as the women are beautiful and the service is perfect. Beneath Candice’s beautiful and composed exterior lies the mind of a total merciless mercenary. She manipulates those around her – has her swordsman (in more ways than one if you get my meaning) kill her enemies or kill for money and is only too willing to buy young girls that have been kidnapped.
She purchases Ai-nu a spirited girl that wants no part of this life and tries to escape. Soon though she realizes that the whole town – especially the men – are under the control of Candice and that there is no escape. Candice becomes fond of the new girl and tries to teach her the ways of being a courtesan. Ai-nu being the new girl in town is desired by all the men – even after one dies of a hairpin shoved into his brain and another from a heart attack!  Candice finds herself falling in love with Ai-nu – and Ai-nu doesn’t seem at all to mind her caresses and a few lengthy love scenes are played out. Sex of course changes everything as we know, and slowly the balance of power begins to shift – and Ai-ni soon has the upper hand. A young Alex Man is an honest constable who investigates the murder and finds himself both drawn and repelled by Ai-nu.
Though likely not everyone's cup of tea, the film with it's wonderful sets, beautiful costumes, excellent acting, fine direction and erotic melodrama is an enjoyable peek into another genre of HK film that is not too familiar to many of us.

My rating for this film: 6.0