Seemingly trying to climb the Shaw Brothers ladder and eventually getting a chance to co-direct Sex Beyond The Grave (1984), Flirting represented the solo debut of Lee Taai-Hang and it was a filmography that ended right there. Very much a shame because as a conveyer of erotica on-screen, extreme emotions... we're dealing with a profile possessing a rare eye for sexy, gritty, rough and disgusting cinema.
Tsai (Alex Man) and friend Hsi (Ng Siu-Gong) are trying to make their living in Hong Kong, taking odd jobs and such but since he's under pressure to marry, Tsai buys himself a Thai wife called Mei (Aoki Yuko). Mostly treating her as a sex reliever and not striking up genuine emotions, those emotions, or at least sexual ones, do happen instead between Hsi and Mei. All while Hsi's Mainland Chinese wife (Maria Yuen) waits for her chance to enter Hong Kong...
Putting forth an audience challenge by placing characters center stage of questionable... everything as it turns out, without going into detail one can say Alex Man may seem like THE one to direct your lack of sympathy towards but as Flirting quickly rolls on, you get an insight emotionally into all three with their particular issues and you know what, one seemingly minor issue such as sexual frustration may spell doom here. Therefore Lee Taai-Hang is pulling one over us as an early scene showcases Man's Tsai having short fuse that naturally leads into violence. Somewhere there's pressure coming from an external source in the form of the mother (Ouyang Shafei) as we find out but his friend Hsi seems to be the morally righteous counterpart with a wife back in the Mainland he tries to provide for. But take into consideration the way a sex scene between Hsi and his wife starts. There's traces of something unsettling there... emotions lacking in stability if you will so despite Flirting looking drab (as it should) and grungy (as it should), these are signs of good design and ultimately quite a lot of intelligence when dealing with this rather theatrical material.
I say theatrical because wisely the movie has a restricted scope and is really about four characters heading down an uncontrollable path. Lee Taai-Hang isn't condemning sex. In fact there's actual steam and hot erotica present that may have clichéd tools used such as slow-motion with the actors sprayed down with water but undeniably the effect is there. What Lee is sort of condemning is probably a mixture of lack of insight into yourself and control of your urges, be it sexual or violent. These characters are more or less lost animals therefore. All shot in gritty, sweaty locations with fine use of score and cinematography for atmosphere. It's comforting to see something from a busy year like 1988 wanting to feel polished and that it's able to accomplish it too.
Lee also maintains tension despite the viewer being able to guess some form of destruction lies ahead. It's of course interesting looking at Tsai's and Mei's relationship where he as the violent drunkard has no obligation to act as the good or unfaithful husband while the fact he has a grip on her, has her as property, means she has little freedom. Certainly there's several sets of bad hands handed out here, a key aspect of false promises makes them lean towards animals with physical, uncontrollable needs only but Lee isn't asking us to sympathize with poor, all too human and animalistic choices. It may be very extreme emotionally at points and when emotions are boiling it even takes place during a rainy night with well cued up thunderstorm effects. Flirting surprisingly earns its corny tools.
There's a huge challenge to throw such ill characters into audiences laps to deal with but Flirting engages on this level and deserves a huge, positive spin as an erotic drama wanting to stand out a little compared to its other companions on the block. Perhaps it was a blessing this was produced before the Category III heyday then but make no mistake about it, it provides more than its share of flesh, disgusting gore and disgusting characters.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson