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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Rouge’: A Supernatural Fable Filled With Romantic Visions

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stanley Kwan’s “Rouge” (Nuart) is an exquisite supernatural fable, an opium dream of a movie that re-creates glamorous Hong Kong of the ‘30s and then plays it against the city’s teeming, workaday present to illuminate and contrast the changing relationships between men and women there.

The story focuses on the ravishing Fleur (Anita Mui), whom we first meet in 1933 in a luxurious Hong Kong brothel then see again in 1987, inexplicably not looking a day older and apparently searching for a long-lost lover. The film turns upon the old Chinese belief that a day in the spiritual world is roughly equivalent to 50 years on earth.

Kwan and writer Lee Pik Wah have created a story that both laments the loss of romance of the old ways, but also respects the easy give-and-take between the sexes that exists in Hong Kong today.

The film’s key setting is that brothel, a sex palace with balconies lined with beautiful young women and decorated with jade screens and the finest Venetian mirrors. There, we meet Fleur, who has fallen in love with a weak-willed 12th Master (Leslie Cheung), a man more interested in pursuing a career in the opera than taking over his family’s herbal medicine business.

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As Fleur and the Master embrace, in an old-movie style close-up, Kwan pans to the glittering skyline of 1987 Hong Kong and in that moment we are whisked more than a half-century forward to a scene where the still-youthful Fleur, dressed in the traditional cheongsam, enters a newspaper office to place a notice in the personals column.

From this point on, Kwan shifts between past and present with ever-increasing meaning and poignance--and with an ironic surprise involving Fleur’s mission. As Kwan gracefully ranges between locales as colorful as the backstage of a Chinese opera to a busy present-day movie set, he protests the folly of women who out of ingrained custom sacrifice themselves for men--especially those unworthy of them in the first place.


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