From the opening (recurring) sequence of a highly stylized nighttime image of snowflakes trickling through the saturated illumination of a roof opening in a feudal era estate and onto the lifeless body of an assassinated aristocrat, Chu Yuan illustrates his elegant command of composition and atmosphere in Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan. The film centers on a willful and defiant young maiden named Ainu (Lily Ho) who, kidnapped and sold into prostitution in an exclusive brothel run by a seemingly emotionally frigid Madame Chun (Betty Pei Ti), vows to exact retribution on the people responsible for her traumatic deflowering. Recalling the subversive eroticism and overt Sapphic intimacy of the lead heroines in Yasuzo Masumura’s Manji, the film is an elegantly crafted, boldly inventive, and irreverently dystopic epic set in the sumptuously decorated brothels and decadent private bondage rooms of the rich and privileged. Chu’s facile command of ornately structured mise-en-scène, elaborately choreographed martial arts sequences, and penchant for freeze-frame ellipses results in a visually sumptuous, timeless, fantastic, and idiosyncratic tale of love, loyalty, and revenge.
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