The Golden Lotus "Love And Desire" (1991)
Written & directed by: Li Han-Hsiang
From majestic, successful and classic Huangmei operas such as The Kingdom And The Beauty (1959) and The Love Eterne (1963), in 1974 Li Han-Hsiang filmed Golden Lotus starring Peter Yang Kwan and Hu Chin, based on the classical Chinese 100 chapter novel Jin Ping Mei. Already on a recognizable path of being also a period drama erotica director, we cut to the latter sections of Li's career (he passed away in 1996) and yet another adaptation of said novel took place in the form The Golden Lotus "Love And Desire". The period sex movie from the era was not rife with star-power, budget or class but a past master taking a stab at it was at least welcomed by some money people (and fact of the matter is, Cheung Chui-Ying produced several of Li's latter day works, including 1989's The Empress Dowager). You could view the production as someone trying to re-claim past glory but on the other hand, Jin Ping Mei is not territory covered by merely Li Han-Hsiang and being a classical novel like Romance Of The Three Kingdoms and The Water Margin, no wonder filmmakers return to it. For instance in 1996 star Tan Lap-Man once again played Ximen Qing in no less than 6 or 7 (the aka's make it slightly hard to determine) movies and Cash Chin gave us a re-awakening of the slumbering period sex movie in 2008 and 2009 with his The Forbidden Legend Sex & Chopsticks I & II. While ambitious looking, Li Han-Hsiang's re-telling is definitely a lesser cousin to its already very flawed 1974 predecessor and for fans of period softcore erotica, that doesn't quite cut it.
Plot-wise Li Han-Hsiang takes some essential beats, dealing with Ximen Qing desiring wife upon wife, power and wealth which all leads into multiple scenes of his giddy, perverted nature to using power as an official to put husbands of women he desires away. Li only covers parts here and there, even if some are completely new (he doesn't include the murder of the dwarf Wu Da Long, played by Frankie Ng in the newest installments), to viewers of the above movies but ultimately the demise of Ximen Qing isn't covered so one wonders if Li wanted to make a series of films based on the novel. Regardless, you're struck early by Li's still very keen eye for the visually striking and the layers in the design really makes the frame spark. The film may not be that much above the average period smut but the effort makes this Golden Lotus stand out. In a perplexing scene at the beginning that needs to be singled out, we see lead Tan Lap-Man on the phone and then shown being directed in what clearly is a staged behind the scenes segment. Is this Li Han-Hsiang's way of drawing the curtains by placing us behind them? God only knows but it's never a tangent visited again.
A problematic part of the narrative that only visits a few beats out of Jin Ping Mei is the complexity/uninteresting nature of it. All made possible by fairly frequent voice over that drowns us in characters, connections and those characters as depicted on screen really fade into a transparency. We barely know anyone outside of Tan Lap-Man's Ximen Qing so we're watching a couple of unrecognizable vignettes with a lot of good looking erotica performed within them. Oh Ximen Qing's world was rarely about the tender art of lovemaking. He's always been very direct, rarely had time to be patient and as the story goes on, bondage and whipping will not be rare occurrences. It's a kid with a knack for expanding his influence, wealth and therefore there's no lack of lust for sex, violence or violent sex. Matters that ultimately leads to his downfall and the disintegration of his household. That became an fairly interesting part of Cash Chin's The Forbidden Legend Sex & Chopsticks films and especially how the women treated their small ounce of power they were given. None such thing visible or at best it's a barely visited story-aspect in The Golden Lotus "Love And Desire". In one of the few outrageous and insane scenes you kind of expect out of the genre and especially from the 90s, Charlie Cho appears as a doctor asked to cure the illness of one of the wives who is dreaming of intercourse and being visited by gods. For Cho, it's a toned down appearance but very Cho in style ultimately. It's bound to be appreciated by aficionados of the frequent Category III actor.
The non-stop nature to the sex in the film means there's even less time to portray the selected narrative out of Jin Ping Mei and although Tan Lap-Man has the right tone for the role, he would've benefited from a story structure akin to Li Han-Hsiang's own Golden Lotus. In the "Love And Desire" version, we get a filmmaker that would perhaps go on to create a more thorough whole IF more moves covering the novel had been made but it doesn't excuse the gorgeous looking, sexy, unfocused time we get here.
Video: 1.82:1 non-anamorphic widescreen.
Audio: Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.
Extras: Trailers for what looks like one of the Crime Of A Beast movies (no English title given) and My Horny Girlfriend. Both being other Matrix Productions who apparently bought The Golden Lotus "Love And Desire" for themselves and added new end credits with a 2002 copyright).
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson