My copy of this film has no subtitles, but it doesn’t really matter. Leslie and Anita have two of the most expressive faces in the acting biz, and two of the best voices as well, both singing and speaking. So the drama and the emotion come through achingly clearly without understanding the dialogue.
Of course, having already seen it I know what the story is, which does help. But it’s a fairly simple story, albeit one drenched with emotion. Anita plays Yuet Fa, a high class courtesan in a 1930s brothel, while Leslie is the scion of a respectable family who courts her. Their love, and his aspirations to perform in Cantonese opera, displease his family, and so the couple plan to commit suicide together by eating opium. An appropriately decadent ending for a decadent time.
The film cuts between the back story and the 1980s, with the ghostly Yuet Fa searching for the lover she hoped to find in the underworld. She enlists the help of a modern couple, which necessitated the casting for some absurd reason of the rather fluffy and annoying Emily Chu. Ick.
The first scene, in which Leslie enters a room where Yuet Fa is singing, is electric. Yuet Fa is dressed as a man, but nonetheless engages in a subtle seduction of Leslie (something that few of us with a pulse could resist). The two, both sultry in the extreme, exchange smouldering glances, and the sexual tension is almost visible in the air. Their subsequent encounters, though often less overt, are still heady with seduction. This was one of Anita’s first films, and she is perfectly cast as the elegant “sour beauty”. It’s easy to believe that men would pay handsomely just to be allowed to touch her legs, as she moves with a langorous grace and uses her eyes to great effect.
Although a tad slow at times, this is still a fine film, with the two leads mesmerising in their respective roles. It’s also worth watching for the historical sets: there’s a particularly fine art deco mirror that I coveted mightily, as well as a huge brass bed that was a present from the young master. Despite the luscious presence of Anita, though, this is not a boy film: chick flick and proud of it, so keep those tissues handy.