An Amorous Woman of theTang Dynasty

Reviewed by YTSL

Different cultures, different values and priorities, it seems, not least when it comes to what to edit (and why).  When the British cut films, it’s to delete that which is deemed to be unacceptable violence (In the recent case of “Tomb Raider”, that would be the headbutting of opponents by Lara Croft).  Among Hong Kong movie fans, the Malaysian censors are notorious for lopping off sex scenes, irregardless of whether they actually involve nudity (Two e.g.s of such editing involve the section of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”’ when Jen bares her midriff, and the love scene in “Those Were the Days” (AKA Y&D 5½) between Chicken and the fisher girl).  Then there’s what looked to have been too common practice in Hong Kong for a time:  The doing away with minutes -- even more than an hour -- worth of footage to allow for the fitting of more screenings per day of the movie in question.

Based on what looks to have been done to “New Wave” auteur Eddie Fong’s directorial debut effort -- one whose original Taiwanese print ran over 3 hours but whose Hong Kong version clocks in at only 104 minutes – it’s those expository and other scenes that allow a cinematic work to possess a comprehensible plot that look to be the first sections to be dispensed with when such actions were taken in the former British Crown Colony.  Shorn of some one and a half hours of film, the shortened version of AN AMOROUS WOMAN OF THE TANG DYNASTY that I saw seemed -- not unexpectedly -- to me to feel terribly unbalanced, in large part because it contains a disproportionate number of scenes of sex and violence.  A good idea of how much of those there are in there may be garnered from my sense that if the British and Malaysian censors were to ever lay their collective hands on this work, there might be no more than ten minutes -- and definitely less than half an hour -- left of this movie for people to view!

In the off chance that there actually are people still reading this review after those last two sentences of mine (as opposed to either going and making a beeline to get this 1984 Shaw Brothers production post haste or actually deciding that this offering might not be for them), here’s stating that for all that I wrote above, I honestly do think that AN AMOROUS WOMAN OF THE TANG DYNASTY -- whose main character is an “erudite girl”, along with sexually uninhibited individual, who became a poet because she didn’t want to be a concubine, courtesan or a nun as well as married matron -- is not (intended to be) a (s)exploitation piece.  For one thing, as one reviewer on Joseph Fierro’s old “Hong Kong Cinema” site opined:  “The film has the quiet dignity and visual beauty that many Ozu films have.”  For another, it does look like Eddie Fong -- who has scriptwriting together with helming credits for this effort -- was pretty sincere plus also quite successful in his bid to “recreate with painstaking detail the look of ancient China” (Barry Long, in “Hong Kong Babylon”, 1997:185).

Even with the version I viewed having been very obviously badly cropped on the sides, the fine aesthetics of the series of pictorial compositions that AN AMOROUS WOMAN OF THE TANG DYNASTY has effectively become (in its present form) do come through.  Among the standout scenes for me is that which had the film’s lead actress -- the daring, courageous even, Patricia Ha -- attired in see-through clothing and swimming in the clear water prior to her character’s first encounter with Tsui Po Hou (played by Alex Man in the years before he became the chunky figure that he has become).  Another obviously carefully  arranged -- yet natural feeling, when enacted -- scene has Yu Shuan Chi (This work’s titular character is an individual who really existed and is regarded as one of the three greatest female poets of the Tang Dynasty) making love to Lu Chiao -- a lower-class individual the scholar asserted that she thought of as “a girl, not a maid” -- and creating a private world of sorts for the two of them, even though in fact they are being watched by the leering men who had forced them to publicly carry out certain private actions.
Although the combination of some beautiful images along with nude figures, sex and action aplenty may provide ample enjoyment for some, after viewing this work, I have to honestly attest to my needing at least a semblance of a real plot -- plus some “hook” to make me feel sympathy, even if not empathy, for at least one major character in the production -- for a cinematic piece to really work for me.  Unfortunately, AN AMOROUS WOMAN OF THE TANG DYNASTY is bereft of those latter two pretty important ingredients.  With regards to the first of them:  It doesn’t help that this feature -- that centers on a woman who was clearly speaking from experience when she stated that “A good lover is rarer than a gem” and “Happy days in life are few, right?” -- was so terribly edited (in the form that I saw it in) that I had problems figuring out whether or not the scenes from her life were shown in a chronologically manner.
With regards to the second:  I expected to have higher regard for a 9th century (Chinese) female who held the opinion that “I belong to myself” and whose ideal mate was “an unbridled man...who can respect me and accept me”.  Instead, the further along I went into the film, the more I found myself wondering about her sanity and true intelligence as well as judgement (And no, I don’t think that was what Eddie Fong was wanting people to think about AN(y) AMOROUS WOMAN OF THE TANG DYNASTY.  Consequently, the sad fact is that even with my recognizing its possessing a bravura performance by Pat Ha as well as quality ones from supporting cast members like Monica Lam (as Lu Chiao) and the man who played the Swordmaker Ouyang (Zhang Gouzhou?), this work -- that caused a sensation when it was first released -- just didn’t do much for me -- and, perhaps worst of all, was actually one which I found to be boring in large parts.

My rating for this film:  4