The son of a fisherman, Ah Shek (Simon Yam) gets a job taking care of Mr. Lui's (Kwan Hoi-San) garden, household and even the old man himself as he's confined to a wheelchair. Looked down on by his young wife Kit Mun (Loc Bek-Kay), as time goes by a sexual tension is developed and the young ones pursue a romance and marriage behind Mr. Lui's back. Which in turn leads to them taking over the household...
The Hong Kong new wave of this time I summarize as unpredictable as there seemed to be plenty of space to play, showcase your voice (whether angry, violent, sexual or dramatic) and with more of that rather than standard genre-templates, most movies of this era are interesting by default. Even if not truly successful at all times. The latter applies to House Of The Lute.
Shot in a calm, naturalistic way by Johnny Koo, director Lau Shing-Hon (The Head Hunter, starring Chow Yun-Fat) seems comfortable in this static approach. But it's not meant to channel an abstract art style but the stillness of Mr. Lui's grounds and the daily grind. It's an elegant but cold surrounding and without a set template, there is enough interest watching the romance and sexual relationship blossom (this movie would surely be rated Category III today).
There's just missing dramatic execution and the required, felt push once darkness takes over. We're still intrigued as we see Kit Mun pamper the young man, give him his first suit and give him his first experiences ever it seems sexually as he gets to act on them in a primal manner. Sexual but not overly erotic, that choice is sound but the romance is on such a fast track that rarely anything is felt even when the switch to callous behavior by Ah Shek is on display.
It's quite cinematic at points these displays of callousness, whether setting Ah Shek fire to mr Lui's lute, kissing in front of him as a taunt or dishing out violence. Even echoing horror for a descent into dual madness during the last reel, again many instincts are sound but reaction and overall execution makes us very neutral towards House Of The Lute. For new wave fans, you CAN cherish the creative freedom of the era but it's not THE example of Hong Kong new wave cinema.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson