g˪L (1999)
The Mistress


Reviewed by: JohnR
Date: 07/07/2006
Summary: Encore!

I don't know whether to be more surprised that this is the first movie directed and written by Crystal Kwok or that it's the only one. Ditto for the actress who played Michelle, Vicky Chen; this is the only listing she has in the database, though her performance here is natural and strong. (The entire cast does well.)

This is a well-done portrait of a woman (Alex) who is sexually reserved in practice, though she has vibrant fantasies, and who takes a job as an English tutor for what she assumed was a young girl but who turns out to be the mistress of a wealthy hedonist businessman (Henry, who's actually kind of likeable, though very self-centered). As she gets to know the woman (Michelle), her initial disgust at the arrangement between Michelle and Henry begins to change as she gradually is drawn into their world of pleasure and material excess. As the journey goes on, she becomes more attracted to Henry and less so to her boyfriend.

Partial Spoiler: What she discovers is that what looked simple for Michelle is quite difficult for her (Alex). She finds herself in love with Henry himself, not just his world, and increasingly falls apart as the time between Henry's visits lengthens.

This could be taken as a cautionary tale for young ladies with hidden longings for the exotic, but I don't think it's intended to be. It shows us that social roles such as "mistress" are filled by humans, sometimes vulerable humans, whose emotions when finally unchecked can be destructive to them.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 01/15/2002
Summary: Strikingly mature & confident directorial debut

Alex (Peng) is employed by suave business man Ray Lui to teach English to his mistress from the mainland, Michelle (Chen). The two girls become friends, and Alex begins to fantasize about what Michelle's life as a paid mistress must be like. Then there's a big fight at the end and the good guys win.

Actually it seems like they forgot to add that last bit in... honestly, some people just have no idea how to make movies! Although to be fair Crystal Kwok doesn't seem to be one of them. Given that THE MISTRESS was her debut film as a director, she shows a remarkable level of confidence and maturity. It's clear that she had a strong vision of how she wanted her movie to look and feel, and seems to have known exactly how to achieve it. The movie is lusciously and creatively filmed, with camerawork and editing that would do any arthouse director proud... especially the blending of reality with the fantasies in Alex' head. The movie is mainly an exploration of Alex' character, and it's rare that a movie from Hong Kong does such a good job of taking the viewer so thoroughly on a tour of somebody's mind. I think that the movie is probably quite strongly 'feminist' - at least, there were times that I felt very much like I was an outsider to the world of the characters, although that may not have been due to gender I guess :)

With it's title and CAT III rating, The Mistress has probably disappeared under most people's radar, which is a shame as it's as interesting a debut feature as any I've seen. The only places where it stumbled slightly for me were in a couple of conversations between Alex and her friend that were held in English, where the acting was clearly unconvincing. Perhaps for native Cantonese speakers the same would be noticable throughout the rest of the movie (especially since Peng is clearly US or Canadian raised from her accent), in which case I guess the movie would not work nearly so well. I think it would do very well on the international circuit though (festivals and art theatres rather than Blockbuster rental shelves) - maybe it already did in fact, but I think I would have heard it mentioned more often if so.

Definitely a movie of note... not necessarily recommended to all comers, but if the description intrigues you then chances are that you will enjoy the movie a lot. And if it doesn't, well... maybe if I mention that the girls are incredibly cute it will? ;-)

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: ryan
Date: 11/21/1999
Summary: Mistress (1999)

Recently more and more independent productions have been showing in theatres. After Fruit CHAN's 'The Longest Summer' in January, Daniel CHAN's 'Slow Fade' followed last month, and now we have 'Mistress,' directed by Crystal KWOK Kam-yan. Crystal KWOK Kam-yan has an image of a person with a very liberal view toward sex, and considering the film's title, I was anxious to see how she would handle her first directorial effort.

'Mistress' presents us with Alex, a woman who grew up in Canada and has just come back to Hong Kong. She gets a job as private tutor for Michelle, a girl from China who is living with a rich man, Herny (Ray LUI Leung-wai), for money. Herny is married but is looking for concubines. At first, Alex feels that the relationship between Michelle and Herny is indecent. However, as the two women build a relationship, Alex's attitude totally changes. When Herny and Michelle break up, Alex suddenly wants to fill the vacant position of concubine. Once she makes this decision, she is lost in her sexual fantasies and is unable to control herself.

'Mistress' is a movie that focuses on 'the other woman' involved in a lover's game. However, the angle taken by director Crystal KWOK Kam-yan is very unique. Unlike other movies that take the view of the first wife, this film never concerns itself with Herny's first wife. This film only considers the female perspective from the point of view of Alex and Michelle.

The Chinese title of 'Mistress' ('Lost in Forest') is a metaphor for the movie's theme. In the first half of the movie, we see how Michelle behaves when she is lost in a 'sexual forest.' At first, the role of Alex is that of a witness (like that of the film's audience), presenting an objective, third-party view about the issue. However, when Michelle loses Herny, Alex takes Michelle's place and behaves like Michelle did. By closely associating with Alex's character at the beginning, the audience is more effectively moved to understand her transformation, as she likewise becomes lost in this 'forest.' This is why the plot holds one's interest.

The film is also successful by showing us glimpses of Alex's subconsciousness from time to time. For example, when she sees Herny playing golf at home, she is thinking if she is playing in a naked girl's virgin. In addition, from time to time there is a flash showing Alex walking through a forest. These moments expressing Alex's feelings also make the movie more involving. The camera work is also another effective element in 'Mistress.' The switch between a television-quality presentation and normal cinematography and the coloring of repeated scenes gives the audience a strong indication of Alex's imbalance. Maybe some shots are repeated too often, but this is not very distracting.

In short, 'Mistress' is a movie that takes a look at sexual fantasies. Unlike other movies, it uses a third party's position when probing the issue of concubines, and its use of the camera effectively presents the will and desires of the characters involved. Although it is first movie directed by Crystal KWOK Kam-yan, she has created a fine movie that shows how her female characters fall into a tricky labyrinth of sexual relations.