An Amorous Woman of Tang Dynasty is another in the Shaw Brothers’ studio’s proud tradition of period-setting erotic dramas with dodgy English titles, following on from 1972’s Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan. Like the latter, though, it really is just a bit more complicated than you’d think: this movie has a number of attributes that set it apart from the rest of the pack.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It is what it says it is on the box: a film filled with rampant nudity, about a scholar-turned-Taoist-priestess who’s famous for her appetites. But quite a lot of effort has gone into it: Patricia Ha delivers a magnetic, focused performance in the lead role (reminding me a little of Meiko Kaji in Lady Snowblood, actually), and some of the art direction in the film is superb. In particular, there’s a peculiarly Japanese aesthetic to the film — Patricia Ha’s hair is done in Japanese style, and the sets and staging are more than a little reminiscent of Japan’s period jidaigeki cinema. I don’t know why this was done, but it does give the film a very different feel from just about anything else I’ve seen from the Shaws.
The story concerns one Yu Yuan-gi (Patricia Ha), a young lady renowned for her scholarship who has chosen to become a Taoist priestess in order to keep her independence and avoid becoming just another wife or mistress to a minor official. She’s a very strong character as the film begins, aware of what she wants out of life and secure in her position as a famous scholar. Life in a monastic order doesn’t really fit with Yu’s insatiable taste for liasons and the world outside her place in society, however; while she associates with the upper classes in her role of the celebrated poetess, she spends her time in the arms of a rough-hewn wandering swordsman (Alex Man Chi-Leung). She also carries on a relationship with her maid, Lu Chiao (Lin Kai-lin), something that’s seen as even more scandalous by her order and the world at large. As the film progresses, Yu Yuan-gi makes even more amoral decisions, and her world begins to spin out of control.
Unfortunately, this isn’t all that easy a film to watch. It’s filled with very rapid cuts between scenes, and I found myself backing up once or twice to work out what had happened to a particular character who’d vanished without an explanation. This isn’t helped by the fact that Yuan-gi’s a fairly enigmatic character anyway, with fairly sparse dialogue and not much else to give away her motivations. There’s some suggestion on the ‘net that the original cut of the film ran about an hour longer, which might possibly explain this version’s lack of coherence.
So, to sum up: though an interesting and rather unique film, An Amorous Woman of Tang Dynasty isn’t easy going. It’s got some excellent performances and superb art direction (recognised with a Golden Horse Award, actually), but its lack of continuity can be a bit taxing.