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ROUGE (YIN JI KAU)(director: Stanley Kwan; screenwriter: Li Pak-Wah; cinematographers: Anita Mui/Bill Wong; editor: Peter Cheung; cast: Anita Mui (Fleur), Alex Man (Yuen), Emily Chu (Ah Chor), Leslie Cheung (Chan Chen-Pang); Runtime: 93; Golden Way; 1987-Hong Kong)
“This is a visually appealing Hong Kong ghost story film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is a visually appealing Hong Kong ghost story film, that is highly stylized, told from the perspective of a courtesan, Anita Mui (Fleur). She committed suicide from an over-dose of opium and sleeping pills; she also gave the deadly dosage to her unsuspecting male suitor, Leslie Cheung (Chan Chen-Pang), in 1934. It was at a time when his wealthy parents would not allow him to marry her, but he continued seeing her despite his parents’ protests and was thereby cut off from the family wealth. Her plan was that — she would rather be with her lover in hell than to not be with him in this world. But things didn’t work out as she expected and she never met him in hell; she did not know that he survived.

We now see her as a wraith in a modern and thoroughly changed Hong Kong, a place that leaves her confused. She tries to contemplate the different changes in the city 50-years later and enters a newspaper advertisement office hoping to place an ad in the paper to locate master 12, as she used to call him, believing that he is now reincarnated in this world and she will locate him by tracing the places he would frequent.

The film is evocative; its strength lying mostly in its poetical presentation, as it masterfully weaves a visual work of great scope and intelligence. The essence of the story does not depend on whether you believe in ghosts or not, though it would help if you would not be entirely reluctant to accept the possibility that there could be a life-after-death. The film’s plot is based on the knowledge that everything in life is transitory, that even love is questionable when thought of in eternal terms.

Fleur, still dressed as a 1930s courtesan would be dressed, appears out of place in this modern capitalistic society that has forgotten not only its ancient roots but its recent past. She befriends the perplexed young head of the ad office, Alex Man (Yuen), who becomes frightened when she follows him home after work, and he realizes that she is not human. He is, only, too human, living with his cute girlfriend Emily Chu (Ah Chor), who is a reporter on the newspaper. When Yuen tells her he took this strange woman back to their place she is, at first, jealous, then her curiosity gets the better of her as she examines her and discovers Fleur does not have a heartbeat. She listens to her story; and, thereby, agrees to help Fleur track down her missing lover; though she has horrible feelings about what Fleur did, not believing suicide is needed as a proof for love. The contrasts between old and new Hong Kong is accomplished in a very revealing manner, as the young couple come to look at their relationship in a deeper way than they ever had before and look back on a Hong Kong that no longer exists with the help of their ghostly guide.

This film fascinated me on many levels but, mainly, it made me wonder about unfulfilled expectations in this world and how the netherworld could really exist as a domain for such things that remain unresolved. It questioned what it is one really believes in and how easy it is to stray from what one believes in. It allows us the opportunity to ask ourselves, if we can really believe in spiritual things without being spiritual? Can love be so enduring to last forever? Is there something worth dying for?

This is truly one of the best films to come out of Hong Kong in the modern era. Even its ironical ending, is handled with great dignity and care; and, even if, you are not convinced by the logic of this super-natural tale, the beauty of its characterization is enough to make up for any shortcomings you might have thought this film had; such as, the improbability of a ghost being so openly seen by everyone.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”