Starring Lily Ho Li-Li, Betty Pei Ti, Yueh Hua, Tung Lam, Man Chung-San, Fan Mei-Sheng, Goo Man-Chung, Chan Shen, Fang Mian, Chan Ho, Sze-Ma Wah-Lung, Lee Ho, Hoh Gong
Directed by Chor Yuen
Expectations: Very high.
If you boil it down to its bare elements, Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan is a simple revenge story. At the same time, it’s something of a revisionist version of the simple revenge story, as the film’s plot plays out far different than any previous Shaw Brothers revenge film (and believe me, there were a lot of those!). The film is also gorgeously well-directed by the one and only Chor Yuen, who is able to construct an artful, rousing melodrama from the base elements of a trashy genre film. It’s something to behold.
The film begins with a green-tinted sequence where an investigator (Yueh Hua) questions a man who found a dead body. The end of the scene connects us to a time years prior, where, now in full color, we are shown the film’s title and a sequence full of slow motion and sheer fabric. The woman at the center of this scene is Lady Chun (Betty Pei Ti), a madam who rules her profitable brothel with a figurative iron fist (gotta make that clear in a Shaw Bros film!). This particular day is a fateful one, as Lady Chun receives a newly kidnapped shipment of young girls, one of which is the divinely beautiful Ainu (Lily Ho Li-Li).
The violence is also worth mentioning. For the most part, it’s just fun, standard Shaw Bros. fare with a lot of swinging swords and bodies hurled through whatever flimsy wooden thing happens to be in their way. The action was choreographed by Simon Chui Yee-Ang, and his work here is great. It would be wrong to call this an action film, but what action there is punches up the film nicely. But it’s the type of violence that sets this one apart. The film isn’t strictly a wuxia, but it retains the fantasy of that genre, allowing characters to jump effortlessly and practice devious kung fu skills. One character’s hands are so strong that they can (and do) bust through anything their owner wishes them to. This isn’t Story of Ricky or anything, but the moments of gore sprinkled throughout are fantastic, gruesome, nasty messes. There’s one moment in the film that surpasses just about everything I’ve seen gore-wise in my chronological run through the Shaw films, and that’s saying something in a series with all kinds of creative decapitations and dismemberment. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I was actually shocked that they took it as far as they did. Definitely ahead of its time.
Next up in this chronological jaunt through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is another tale from The Water Margin, Chang Cheh and Pao Hsueh-Li’s Delightful Forest! See ya then!