Se qing nan nü
Hong Kong, 1996
Reviewed by Shelly Kraicer
Derek Yee's latest in his genre-tour: an arty sex movie, after his melodrama C'est la Vie Mon Cherie, and his motorcycle-action epic Full Throttle.
Viva Erotica is frustrating movie to deal with: it has some brilliant bits, and some really awful bits, all jumbled together. The best come from this film's self-referential quality. It's a movie about movie-making; specifically, the story of Sing (Leslie Cheung), a HK movie director who,after a string of flops, resorts to making a pornographic film called Viva Erotica.
Sing's imagination is hyperactive and cinematic: this movie shines when depicting his flights of fancy as spectacularly rendered film episodes. Yee and his cinematographer Jingle Ma romp freely through every effect, lighting trick, and vertiginous camera movement they can think of, and the results are delightful.
Less delightful are the film's three "serious"erotic scenes. The first answers the movie's burning question in the first 10 seconds (yes, you see Leslie -- NAKED!). And the final one (set, curiously,to Uneasy, a Faye Wong instrumental track from the album Impatience [Fuzao]), intended to be the film-with-a-film's triumphantly arty finale,is a laboured, merely tacky Calvin Klein-style montage. A serious film about eroticism-in-film needs to do better than this in its own sex scenes.
Leslie Cheung's performance, like the movie, is uneven: alternately committed and disengaged. Tsui Kam-Kong and Hsu Chi as the two porn stars have their moments: in key scenes, each manages to humanize an otherwise hopelessly broadly-sketched character. Film references abound, from clever (cameos of gloomy unemployed film directors) to frivolous (Lau Ching-Wan as an extremely disenchanted filmmaker named "Derek Yee"). And Yee takes a stand in the Wong Jing vs.Wong Kar-Wai polemic (is there a serious HK film in 1996 that hasn't felt the need somehow to refer to Wong Kar-Wai??).
Plenty of amusement value, with bucketfuls of technique to admire. But Yee doesn't seem to have fixed on the tone he wanted for this movie: ironic detachment? frank self-exposure? naive idealism? You can't have all three.
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all content © 1996-2002 Shelly Kraicer