The Pure and The Evil

Taking into account that this film has a little known cast, no word of mouth, a director who has practically no films to his credit (before or after) and was made (1982) near Shaw’s official demise as a film production company, I wasn’t expecting much beyond a cheap attempt at sleaze for a few box office dollars (based on the DVD blurb). Much to my surprise, the film turned into a fairly solid piece of work that touches only very mildly on the “sleaze” factor, but is rather a well-thought out personal drama that I found intriguingly different if not overly involving.
Tai Liang-chun and Chen Pei-hsi
When Pure and Evil was made in 1982 Hong Kong cinema was going through the period that has been termed its “New Wave” in which a number of young directors coming from a television background began making small personal films that had a stark element of gritty intimate realism that had generally been lacking in Hong Kong cinema. The director (Chin Hai-lin) also had a television background (RTHK) and he clearly seems influenced by the films from directors such as Ann Hui, Patrick Tam and Allen Fong. This is a fairly bleak and cynical look into a young woman’s life in Hong Kong that often seems in danger of veering into soapy melodrama, but generally pulls back to its realistic moorings.
Rose (Chen Pei-hsi) and May (Tai Liang-chun) are nearly inseparable best friends in high school even though they come from very different economic backgrounds and have extremely different personalities. Rose lives with her sister and the sister’s deadbeat boyfriend in a small rundown apartment, while May comes from a wealthy family that is planning to soon move to Canada. While May is very quiet and reserved, Rose is more sexually experienced and much more willing to live on the edge – her extra curricular activities are choir and working as a club hostess. Rose swears to May that someday she will make it big and pull herself out of her lower class status.
So May goes off to Canada and Rose begins her climb – one dirty step at a time. Rose is given a complex characterization and it is difficult to get a read on her – basically she is a good person but at the same time she is willing to bend the rules of ethics, hurt people and sleep around to get where she wants to go. So she begins working in a low class sex bar where patrons are serviced in dingy lit booths out in the open but soon realizes this isn’t helping her ambitions much. So she gets into modeling, wins the Miss Flower Beauty contest after first removing her tattoo (in a very yuck inducing scene) and faking her background. This title allows her to move socially into the wealthy circle and she begins building contacts, getting financing and being nice to the right people. May eventually returns and the two continue their good friendship, but she has brought with her a husband (Liu Yung) who seems very interested in Rose – and vice versa. The film has a small amount of nudity and a number of sexual situations, but it deals with it in a mature manner as opposed to an exploitive one.
As I mentioned above, neither the director nor the two main actresses were very well known when this film was made and none of them went on to particularly successful careers. Chin Hai-lin directed only one more film, but was the assistant director of Ann Hui’s Song of the Exile. Chen Pei-hsi (Rose) had been in a couple earlier films – one of them in Leslie Cheung’s Teenage Dreamers (as one of the four female friends) and later appeared in a few more films (Five Elements of Ninja, Rape & Die, Silent Romance) before she dropped out of the industry in the mid-80’s. The film really rests on her shoulders and she does a very solid job and has great energy - though isn't in truth really attractive enough to make it believable that so many men want her. Most interesting perhaps is Tai Liang-chun (May), a Taiwanese actress who debuted in 1981 and then during Passing Flickers met and romanced Liu Yung (her husband in this film). They soon got married and she left film, but they were divorced within two years after he attacked her with a knife!
Note: the picture on the DVD cover shows the two actresses taking a shower together (a definite factor in me watching this film!), but unless I am even older than I feel and I missed it, this scene is not in the DVD. Whether it was cut or was only a publicity shot I can’t say.

My rating for this film: 6.0