The Reincarnation Of Golden Lotus (1989)

Directed by: Clara Law
Written by: Lillian Lee
Producer: Teddy Robin
Starring: Joey Wong, Eric Tsang, Tan Lap Man, Wilson Lam, Ku Feng & Chiao Chiao

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Nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1990:
Best New Performer (Tan Lap Man)

Mainland girl Lotus (Joey Wong) receives a break from her mistreatment and bad luck when she meets salesman Wu Ta (Eric Tsang) who takes her back to Hong Kong for marriage. Soon signs of not being accepted and visions of a previous incarnation of her in the past starts a spiral of darkness where she's becoming more victimized as time goes by, none more so than by the vengeful spirit behind it all, the scheming concubine Golden Lotus...

Clara Law cranked up the style and harshness for her second feature, a period/modern day drama based on the famous old Chinese tale of the Golden Lotus. Rather than adapting it, Law takes and brings the crucial basics of the book, involving erotica, intrigue and death, to an audience that probably can accept the mix in modern and moving form. A full on slow, talky period tale wouldn't have generated 8 million Hong Kong dollars back in the day, that's for sure. The Reincarnation Of Golden Lotus does echo feelings of Rouge no doubt (especially with writer Lillian Lee on board as well) but not only isn't it that at all, it would also be awfully ill-timed as Stanley Kwan's classic came out 2 years prior.

As usual working with husband Eddie Fong (this time taking line producing duty), Law crafts a stylish and downbeat tale that seems to stray from themes set in The Other 1/2 & The Other 1/2 and in subsequent movies during her relatively short Hong Kong movie career, that of immigrants. We have one here, namely Joey Wong's Lotus as she is brought from the Mainland to Hong Kong but Law never really makes it her mission to portray that aspect (it would receive a larger attention with Farewell China the year after). No, she collaborates intensely with cinematographer Jingle Ma instead to bring a classy look to The Reincarnation Of Golden Lotus but also needs Ma on board for the highly stylish workings. While some parts aren't up to snuff, the total sum of them creates a dark, immersing experience that manages to borderline on extraordinary eventually.

Twists are to be found but overall, Lee's script makes a definite point that reincarnation and fate are like echoes, never changing, always reprising itself and therefore, the early downbeat sentiments and physical violence towards Joey Wong's Lotus is clearly going to escalate, all due to a rather unsympathetic vengeful spirit; the number 1 slut of Chinese history, Golden Lotus. Abuse and mistreatment comes first during the Cultural Revolution as neither Lotus and fling Wu Lung (Wilson Lam) are deep inside supporters of the cause and when all's seem well in Hong Kong 20 years later (by the way, this is the biggest dispension of disbelief in the whole film as neither Wong or Lam age one bit between the 60s segment and the late 80s one) but that dreaded echo becomes apparently quickly. Why, Lotus learns the hard way.

Flaws are to be discussed but it has to be said that Clara Law largely is spot on with her dramatic instincts despite a lot of attention being on style. Not only Jingle Ma is an important factor here with his fine camera work and stunning ventures into the sections where the past reminds itself and takes over Lotus completely but editor Kam Ma does superb work as we seamlessly drift between past, present and sometimes Law's direction sees the two merge to eerie effect. Name dropping even more, composers Liu Sai Kit and Wai Pang earns their pay as does action director Tony Leung during his brief contribution. No matter how small, this crew shows off the ability to work in favour for the production. Since the film clearly doesn't set out to make anyone happy, it's definitely for a crowd that can take those slaps in the face but any crowd should be able to recognize the plight of the abused Lotus. If viewers are familiar with Law's subsequent Farewell China, they've definitely received a feel of the punishment she gives characters. The Reincarnation Of Golden Lotus is more poetic in that regards, less dirty but nonetheless a draining experience.

But the film does derail occasionally, especially during the initial stages of Eric Tsang and Joey Wong's interactions. The biggest fault here is unfortunately Eric Tsang who is brought on board to sadly be Eric Tsang. Way too goofy and annoying, his place in the structure is clear and while never there to break the mood into comedy as such, Tsang is way too over the top with his presence. He would learn in efforts such as Comrades, Almost A Love Story to control himself but the 80s saw little of that, including this performance.

Working with Joey Wong however is a blessing for Clara Law to overpower the Eric Tsang segments. Wong's stunning beauty both in the period and modern sections of the film benefits the film greatly and she communicates much through subtle changes of mannerisms and with larger outbursts, all while relying on very little hysterics however. It's actually a signature performance I would like to see mentioned alongside A Chinese Ghost Story more often but the genres are different ones in terms of bankability. The Reincarnation Of Golden Lotus remains there always to be discovered though and Joey Wong will have something to look back on with pride. Wilson Lam and Tan Lap Man also brings serviceable weight to the table but neither can match the staying power of Joey Wong's act here. Ku Feng and Chiao Chiao appear briefly.

In The Reincarnation Of Golden Lotus, Clara Law takes it up quite a few notches since her light debut The Other 1/2 & The Other 1/2 and while mostly discarding her trademark theme of immigration, what matters is her successful attempt at eerie, powerful, immersing, punishing but poetic style that The Reincarnation Of Golden Lotus is. Basic knowledge about the novel enhances somewhat but the downbeat experience the film is lives and breathes on its own.

The DVD:

The approximately 1.82.1 framed presentation by Megastar has noticeable damage at some points but is relatively sharp and colourful throughout. Their edition is now out of print and replaced by a dvd distributed by Deltamac.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track in Cantonese uses a fair amount of Mandarin during the beginning stages of the film and while the fronts receive some decent separation, dialogue is not properly centered. Best option is to play the sound through your TV therefore. A Mandarin 5.1 option is also available.

The English subtitles has very few errors and immerses the viewer to an unexpectedly good level. Japanese, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese subtitles are also selectable. Trailers for The Reincarnation Of Golden Lotus, Midnight Girls, Robotrix and 3 Days of A Blind Girl are the only extras.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson