DIRECTOR: CHEN KAIGE
COUNTRY: CHINA 1996
CINEMATOGRAPHY: CHRISTOPHER DOYLE
MUSIC: ZHAO JIPING
CAST: Gong Li, Leslie Cheung, Kevin Lin Jianhua, Caifei He, Chang Shih, Liankun Lin, Giangting Ge, Xian Xie, David Wu, Jie Zhou, W Yemang Zhou, Lei Ren, YIng Wang, Kevin Lin.
SUPER FEATURES: The design of the film, and story.
TEMPTRESS MOON, has its good points and bad points.
It is not, on par with previous Chen Kaige films, in that fundamental directing choices regarding this film. Like his close friend and director, Zhang Yimou, Kaige has always been a bit too symmetrical of a film maker, in the sense that the scenes are framed a bit rigidly with the camera, and then shot. TEMPTRESS MOON, shows that some directors in China are seeing other films and that they are getting influenced by them. Chen Kaige made a directorial choice in this film of shooting the whole thing on a steady cam ( by hand ) rather than sitting the camera down every now and then.
It helps, and then it doesn't. When it is challenging to a particular character's wish or desire, it works. When it is looking at the staid, boring, and basically dead old monuments of the Pang family, the elders, it does not work.
It has been said that the success in film, is made because of its ability to make the camera invisible. And although the idea is ok, in this film it was not, totally well defined, or designed. The characters know where the camera is, and are obviously playing to it, which is a bit boring after the first few times. By comparison, Wong Kar-wai shoots his whole films by hand, and one never really notices that the camera is obtrusive, although it does have a breathtaking pace, and a dizzying movement all the time. Kaige's choice, was to move when he had to, and to stop, when his three main characters were at a catharsis, which may have been the best time for him to keep it moving anyway, so one could notice the character scream "in vain" ( so to speak ) , thus making each character's plight that much more important... no one is listening, or paying attention, would be a point, then.
But, if the camera is the main instrument in this film, perhaps, then, we have to let go of something, and that may just be the story... in almost all the films where the camera is "free", the story takes second place, and in fact, is really less important than the point of view that is offered, the veritable stream of consciousness of the extra person that is participating in the "film", the fourth wall visitor/audience/us person. In this film, Kaige never lets go of the story, and tries to enhance it with the close ups. so we end up with a very emotional, strong, and to this reviewer, confusing film, where the style seems to be getting in the way of the whole thing. I might have offered that the youngsters be shot with the moving camera and that the elders with a totally stationary camera, thus adding a statement to the "old" style, versus the "new" style, but perhaps this was already "passť" by the time that Chen Kaige did this film.
Thus, this film comes off as an experiment, but not altogether a bad one. For one thing, it breaks out the acting, which in these films tend to be a bit "formal" by western standards..... in other words, this comes off as a sort of Peter Brook West End performance, probably blazing a trail for the future of character and theme development. Generally, when this happens, the "whole" tends to disappear in the past examples, in favor of the "moment". In this case, the moment makes a statement, but it is not winning the battles, or the war. It may be a start, however.
With some excellent performances by all parties, Gong Li, may not necessarily be the strongest performer of all of them, her physical/sexual moments are weak and terribly self conscious, but nevertheless, she still manages to bring about a strong personage.
It is the story of the Pang family, whose power and strength has been dwindling in the past years (story starts in 1911) and eventually falls apart. It's heirs, are young, and two of them are enjoying the comforts of being rich, by smoking opium. Their relationship is confused, because of the demands that are placed on them. And one day, Ruyi, becomes the leader of the family, and this is a major problem for all the elders, the males, who are afraid that a woman will ruin the family. And the situation creates an interesting triangle, for the three children that were friends, that are now adults, but are, essentially, fighting among themselves for control of the family and its influence.
What is most obvious, is that the family is trapped inside their quarters, and are totally out of touch with the world, another cross over chance where the camera work themes could have been better exploited, since the patterns of life outside the brick walls are decidedly faster, and changeable than within the walls.
All in all, visually, this film is very pretty, although the color design of the film does not get much of a chance to shine, with the camera so intent on staying on the actors, in an attempt to make their plights stronger. In doing one thing, I suppose that one sacrifices another. In this case, I think the film decision was made to do the whole shoot on hand, rather than study its potential and possibilities.
Not a great film, but a very good one. Different by Chinese standards, and a bit more "physical/sexual than previous films. Still, it is self conscious in this department, but that may have more to do with their ability to get past sensors in China with their state run film industry, than it does with the director himself. But ultimately, the way to represent this falls on the director's shoulders.
A good film, not a great one. A changing of ways for Chinese film making, and a sign that shooting styles will begin to vary out of China, which is good. Honk Kong influence is very obvious.
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