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Temptress Moon
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Leslie Cheung (left) and Gong Li (right) in publicity photos from Temptress Moon.


Year: 1996
Director: Chen Kaige
Cine: Christopher Doyle
Cast: Leslie Cheung Kwok-Wing, Gong Li, Ho Choi-Fei, Kevin Lin, Zhou Xun, David Wu
The Skinny: Exquisite camerawork highlights this otherwise interminable exercise in artifice. Chen Kaige's depressing drama is told in an overly-lurid fashion, and the details are played as affecting and meaningful - when they're in fact neither of the two. For cinematography lovers, this movie is great, but those expecting Farewell My Concubine redux should check elsewhere.
by Kozo:

This punishing drama from Chen Kaige is 130 minutes long, and it's an interminable experience sitting through them. Leslie Cheung is Zhongliang, a morally deficient gigolo who robs women blind (literally). He returns to the house of his burnt-on-opium brother-in-law to find his sister still in residence. He also discovers that his sister-in-law, Pang Ruyi (Gong Li), has taken control of the household.

Zhongliang and Pang Ruyi start an affair, but since this is a Fifth Wave Chinese film you can expect that things won't end all rosy. Chen Kaige doesn't change the formula here. The two leads are a romantic dead-end; Zhongliang's relationship with Ruyi is doomed because Zhongliang finds himself unable to love. The reason for this is that once upon a time he did something with his sister when they were wacked out on opium. Whoa! Then it gets worse.

Leslie Cheung brings his usual acting style to the table, which alternates between suave brooding and explosive overacting. The anchor to any Chinese film that gets US distribution (Thanks Miramax!) is Gong Li, but she's strangely miscast as the naive Ruyi. Li is best at playing powerful women, and Ruyi is far from powerful. MTV Asia VJ David "Wu-man" Wu appears in blurred shots near the film's end.

Superficially, the film is exceptionally beautiful. Christopher Doyle takes a break from Wong Kar-Wai films to lense this film, which goes to great lengths to show just how decadent and corrupt the Chinese were once upon a time. A lot of time is spent on close-ups of dead flowers, slamming home the film's main theme of love as a futile exercise.

Point well taken, but it's too bad that there isn't a character worth caring about anywhere in the film. Everyone seems to be playing self-destructive caricatures who had the misfortune of living through obviously depressing times. They hardly deserve the reverential storytelling that director Chen Kaige bestows upon them. The film carries all the superficial trademarks of China's Fifth Wave, but none of the emotional power of Zhang Yimou's Raise the Red Lantern or Chen's own Farewell My Concubine.

Temptress Moon isn't entirely bad, though. It's interesting to watch, and it's certainly beautiful to look at. Fans of depressing cinema will go home happy; they get to watch an entire cast of characters self-immolate. Still, the crowds at Cannes jeered the film and I can't say they were entirely unjust. Chen Kaige is actually a very talented director, but the overly-lurid storytelling and cast of unidentifiable, unlikable characters dooms the film. On the plus side, the characters meet appropriate fates, but at minute 124 it was more than a little overdue. (Kozo 1996)

Theme song: "A Thousand Dreams Of You" by Leslie Cheung
Request this song on HKVP Radio | Vote for Leslie Cheung

The 16th Annual Hong Kong Film Awards
Nomination - Best Actress (Gong Li)
Nomination - Best Cinematography (Christopher Doyle)
Nomination - Best Art Direction (Wong Hap-Kwai)
1996 Cannes Film Festival
Nomination - Golden Palm (Chen Kaige)
Availability: DVD (USA)
Region 1 NTSC
Buena Vista Home Video
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Tracks
Removable English Subtitles
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image courtesy of  Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen