For the first time, I took part in my friend Paul Clark's awesome White Elephant blog-a-thon. Everyone who wants to participate submits the name of a movie they'd like to subject someone to (good or bad) and receives one in turn, to watch and review on, appropriately, April Fool's Day. Here goes!
INTIMATE CONFESSIONS OF A CHINESE COURTESAN (1972) ***1/2 out of 4
Allow me to cut to the chase: this movie fucking rules. I'll be honest; when I received the title of my White Elephant assignment, I thought "Oh man, what is this? Some boring '70s soft-core porn?" Upon doing a little research, however, and learning that it was a Shaw Brothers film, my interest perked up a bit. I've actually never seen a Shaw Brothers film, though I've heard plenty about them (particularly about their influence being all over Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films, and boy is that true). So I was expecting something pretty cool. Not this cool, though.
Actually, the "'70s soft-core" vibe I got from the title isn't too far off in some ways, but the stylized eroticism here is used to tell a pretty righteous, feminist revenge story that ultimately serves as a rather effective damning of sexist exploitation, even while it embraces it. Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan is about a young woman named Ai Nu (Lily Ho), who is kidnapped and sold into sex slavery under the care of cold-blooded lesbian madam Lady Chun (the exquisitely evil Betty Pei Ti). Despite Ai Nu's violent protestations and escape attempts, Lady Chun takes a liking to her (as well as a liking to her, if you know what I mean), refusing to give up on making her the brothel's biggest star.
Eventually, Ai Nu's hatred of Lady Chun seems to dissipate, and Ai Nu does indeed become the most sought-after prostitute at the brothel, as well as Lady Chun's close friend and lover. Lady Chun begins to trust her, even teaching her martial arts. Hmmmm....I wonder where this is going? But even though anyone who's seen more than 5 movies in their lifetimes knows that Ai Nu's just playing her hand and that it's all going to end in a bloodbath with Ai Nu and Lady Chun with swords drawn against each other, that doesn't ruin the fun in the slightest. In fact, knowing that the icy, reptilian Lady Chun is eventually going to get her comeuppance is fun all in itself.
The film, deftly directed by Yuen Chor, is paced to kill (at just 87 minutes, it zips along insanely fast), exciting, emotionally involving, elegantly shot, and entertaining as hell. The tawdry B-movie stuff is nicely balanced with moments of genuine feeling and filmmaking skill, and oh yeah. The fight scenes. They're awesome, and there's a lot of them. There are somersaults and blood-spray galore, and the shing! sound made by swords clashing sent chills down my spine every time. If you've also never seen a Shaw Brothers film but are versed in Tarantino, think the "Showdown at the House of Blue Leaves" sequence in Kill Bill, Vol. 1 and that will give you an idea.
Highly recommended, and I'm definitely going to seek out more Shaw Brothers films. Thanks to whoever selected this movie!