Thursday, 21 February 2008

Rouge (1987, Hong Kong, Stanley Kwan)

Hong Kong melodrama from 1987 directed by Stanley Kwan, who would receive international acclaim with his following feature 'Actress'. This was based on the life of Ruan Lingyu, the Chinese Garbo, who was most famous for Goddess (an exceptional film from the 1930s), and her life story shares so many aspects of Rouge - the 1930s, suicide, social pressure, forbidden romances, so it's almost as if in many ways that Rouge is a training ground for what is Kwan's most acclaimed and famous film.

Rouge has to be judged on its own merits though. It reminds me of Chen Kaige's 'Temptress Moon' in many respects, which also starred Leslie Cheung. Both are incredibly self-aware melodramas. This angle is deliberately played up and exploited - maybe because in the case of Rouge, the heroine belongs in the 1930s, the peak period for Chinese melodramas, which also throws her into a bit of a "fish out of water" situation in late 1980s Hong Kong.

Fleur, a courtesan (perfectly played by Anita Mui) and Chan Chen-Pang (Leslie Cheung), heir to a wealthy family fall in love despite the disapproval of his family, who have decided that he should marry his cousin for the benefit of his family's name and future. Such is their love for each other that they agree on a suicide pact, though it doesn't quite go to plan. Fleur, who died, searches for her beloved in a modern Hong Kong some fifty years after her death.

Whilst Fleur searchs, she engages the help and sympathy of a two journalists, Yuen (Alex Man) and Ah Chor (Emily Chu), a couple who are going through the motions and seem not too serious. Fleur's story makes them re-evaluate their own relationship, perhaps envying Fleur's passion, but also demonstrates how love has changed throughout the ages - they admire the sacrifices Fleur made and the lengths she went to in order to be with the one she loved. They concede they aren't that romantic.

With the film's self-awareness goes a wicked sense of humour too - see the scenes where Ah Chor, who thinks Yuen has brought a woman (Fleur) home, doesn't believe she is a ghost and then finds out comically. Add much technical prowess; the 360 degree turn of the camera as Fleur and Chen's eyes meet for the first time at the brothel she works at, the way the camera glides as Yuen notices Fleur appearing and vanishing when she first visits him at the newspaper office asking to place an ad for a missing person. Fleur might be a ghost but she is shown as a real person; there's no effects, she has emotions, thoughts, a purpose. It's a superbly fleshed out central character for what is a stunning film both visually and emotionally. 4.5/5

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