Dir: Liu Fendou. Hong Kong. 2008. 130min

This over-stylized tale of mad love Hong Kong-style, featuring gangsters and copious sex and nudity, plays like a more modest but no less ambitious companion piece of sorts to last year’s steamy Lust, Caution. Tailored for a western audience, its visual compositions and hints of surrealism should bring it a receptive response atfestivals although its long running time will limit prospects on the art house circuit.

The film begins with Wang Yao (Liao Fan) just released from prison. An unscrupulous pimp whose business involved blackmailing and roughening up his girls’ clients, he discovers his best friend and business partner Zheng Zhong (Hai Yi Tian) is now paralyzed. Helping him back to his dingy apartment, Wang then grabs a gun and makes off for his former lover Lichuan’s mother’s house.

Flashbacks to eight years previously reveal how he began a passionate relationship with a barmaid Lichuan (Mok). Warning her that he’s not a nice man, he proceeded to treat her brutal contempt and though they were united by an overwhelming passion, he made sure that she always understands who has the upper hand even during their (explicitly-filmed) intimate moments. Meanwhile, with Zheng, he took control of a patch belonging to another pimp Gunzi (Lam Suet).

The film’s ending brings the story back to the present for a final sequence that was signposted too early on and that reveals nothing new.

The real stars of this picture are cinematographers Chen Ying and Chan Chor Keung; the colour palette and the composition of the frames is always creative and interesting. The script, based on a Wang Shuo novel, suggests the influence of such s/m classics as The Story Of O, but Liu’s sluggish direction can’t help but expose the holes in the plot and he self-consciously has his cast strike poses reminiscent of frames in European noirs.

Liao Fan plays the villainy of his character with relish but lacks the authority the role needs. The suggestion that his vile nature stems from his lack of confidence doesn’t make him either more likeable or interesting. Monika Mok, in her first film role, bravely attempts to flesh out the character of a despondent woman victimized by the man she loves, while Hai Yi Tian successfully holds his own in a relatively small but sympathetic part.

Production companies
Filmko Entertanment Ltd

Worldwide distribution
Katapult Film Sales
(1) 310 358 0303

Executive producers
Stanley Tong
Liu Xiao Dian

Simon Yam

Screen play
Liu Fendou
Bobo Au
From original story by Wang Shuo

Chen Ying
Chan Chor Keung

Production design
Li Yang
Raymond Kwok

Kwong Chi Leung

Ronald Ng

Main cast
Liao Fan
Monica Mok
Hai Yi Tian
Lam Suet
Simon Yam
Leung Ka Yan
Him Law
Paw Hee Ching
Ha Da