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Temptress Moon

Director: Chen Kaige


Opium addiction, incestuous passion, thwarted dreams, blackmail, secrets and lies: Chen Kaige’s lavish, tortuous melodrama has all these and more. After the early scenes (set in 1911 as Pu Yi succumbs to the Republican revolution), in which a young boy staying with the wealthy Pang family finds himself forced to become servant and sexual plaything to his sister (He Saifei) and brother-in-law, the film shifts to the 1920s and the return of the now adult Zhongliang (Leslie Cheung), an embittered Shanghai gigolo, to the Pang mansion. His old friend, the opium-addicted family head Ruyi (Gong Li), falls madly for him, while she in turn has a devout admirer in poor cousin Duanwu (Kevin Lin). The scene is thus set for a cruel, intoxicating tale of unrequited love, inflamed jealousy, self-destruction and sacrifice, and turbulent clashes between the old and new China, all held together by Chris Doyle’s characteristically fluid, expressive camerawork and Chen’s sumptuously dreamlike direction. And perhaps for the first time, the director seems genuinely caught up in exploring sexual passion, in which respect, unsurprisingly, he’s well served by the impossibly glamourous pairing of Cheung and Gong Li.

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