Reviewed by YTSL
The makers of this movie seemed to have aspired
for it to be much more than the flawed (minor) piece that it is.
Even in the form in which I saw it, there was a lushness to the cinematography
(of Jingle Ma, who was nominated for a Hong Kong movie award for this film),
a lavishness to the costuming, obvious thoughtfulness with regards to choices
of locations, and an attempted sense of weightiness that managed to come
through in a few scenes that are evidence for this.
Some of the opening scenes (including one featuring
the protagonist going out riding in appropriate English-style garb with
the person whom she eventually hopes to marry) looks to presage "The Soong
Sisters". At one point, the story of KAWASHIMA YOSHIKO (a.k.a. THE
LAST PRINCESS OF MANCHURIA) intersects with "The Last Emperor" of China
(and, consequently, Bertolucci's film of that name). However, neither
of those historical epic-type productions feature as many sex scenes and
the kind of kinetic fight sequence that would not have been at all out
of place in a martial arts movie as this biopic. And perhaps it was
inadvertent, but it was difficult for this Hong Kong movie fan to view
a Hong Kong period film which features a woman cross-dressing, scenes of
her viewing Chinese Opera, and torture that involves whipping and water
without thinking of (the major classic work that is) "Peking Opera Blues".
Amidst all this, I (still) found it difficult to see this particular piece
-- as Tony Rayns has done -- as "a wonderfully subversive rereading of
China's modern history" (See Fredric Dannen and Barry Long's "Hong Kong
On the whole, I can't help but feel that this
production focused too much on one person -- a Manchu princess who was
sent to Japan at a young age to be trained to eventually return to China
to act as a Japanese spy, and who, from 1934 to 1940, headed the Japanese
Pacification Army in Manchukuo -- at the expense of reducing other characters
(including those played by Andy Lau and Derek Yee) to ciphers whom we look
at with the same disinterest or disdain as the protagonist. In doing
so, too much burden was placed on the lead actress, Anita Mui, who features
in almost every scene of this film. And while Mui can command the
stage and definitely is adept at being sultry and sexy, this Diva just
does not convince when asked to play pathetic or desperate. At the
risk of offending fans of the Madonna of Asia, I honestly believe that
this movie would have benefited so much from having an actress with the
range and ability -- along with appropriate sizzle and daring -- of, say,
Carina Lau (or Carrie Ng) as its star.
Generally then, this is a disappointing effort.
However, I will emphasize that there are aspects of it that are impressive.
Also, it seems to me that a biographical work that gets the viewer interested
in the life of a person that (s)he previously did not know existed can't
be all that bad. At the very least, the moviemakers (including director
Eddie Fong) deserve some credit for focusing on a controversial – and hardly
popular -- subject who and which, post Handover, I suspect will never ever
be explored (fairly sympathetically) again.
My rating for the film: 6.