Temptress Moon (1996)
Director: Chen Kaige
Cast: Leslie Cheung, Gong Li
It is the 1920s in Shanghai and gigolo and blackmailer of married women, Zhongliang (Leslie Cheung) is about to throw old and new China into turmoil, when he returns to the Pang household, a house of opium addiction, incest and intrigue. Where his sister, and her husband took him to live for a time when he was a boy.
Zhongliang fled from this household (where he was treated as a servant, as someone to fill his brother-in-laws opium pipe) years earlier when he poisoned his brother in law after he was forced to commit incest with his sister. This is his first time in this household since that fatal night when his sister smuggled him out after the poisoning.
The master of the house has just died and as the eldest family member is in a permanent coma, after Zhongliang’s poisoning off his opium pipe, Ruyi (Gong Li) now runs the house. Distant cousin Duanwu assists Ruyi. The clan had no choice but to put Ruyi in charge, but need a male family member near the top of the heap and Duanwu is the only option they have.
Duanwu is treated almost like a servant, beaten by elders of the clan. He is deeply in love with a Ruyi, which is obviously of greater pain to him than all the beatings that he receives at the hands of the clan members.
After Ruyi and Duanwu practice sex, and after Zhongliang replays the poisoning in of his brother in law’s opium pipe on Ruyi, Duanwu is moved up to take charge of the household and with a determined and possibly vindictive stare happily takes his throne.
Wonderful, convoluted and a deeply psychological story. With tension and desires simmering just under the surface of each of the main characters. Gong Li and Leslie Cheung wonderfully act the characters of Zhongliang and Ruyi, as always, and Kevin Lin does a wonderful job of Duanwu.
Wonderful camera work as always by Christopher Doyle. Not as obviously present, at first as in his work with Wong Kar-Wai. But beautifully shot with a mostly unobtrusive camera, which flows easily between past and present. And absorbs with ease the excellent performances of each of the main characters, as a camera should do sometimes. Without making it obvious that you are watching a film, by some trick of the camera which jolts you back to reality. When all we want is to be absorbed into the characters, story and situations.
Heavily edited by Miramax films, a longer possibly better version than this is floating around out there somewhere. With or without the editing by a Miramax the film was banned in China.
Sadly Leslie Cheung was found dead just after 7am on April 1st 2003 with a suicide not found with the body.
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©Review by Giovanni Pistachio,
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