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風月 (1996)
Temptress Moon

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 10/27/2008

“Temptress Moon” stars two of the most gorgeous movie actors of the past 50 and was shot by one of the most accomplished cinematographers ever to look through a lens. With Gong Li, Leslie Cheung and Christopher Doyle a movie can’t fail to look great; the story however is little more than a tragic family melodrama. Chen Kaige wrings every bit of bathos from the overwrought script, never settling for a character being merely unhappy when he can reach for complete misery.

Leslie Cheung never looked more enticing which suited his role as a gigolo working for a Shanghai gang that blackmailed wealthy married women. We know almost from the beginning—definitely from the second vignette of seduction and betrayal—that at some point he will feel love or at least real human emotion toward one of this targets which will lead to his downfall. We are even less surprised when the object of his affection turns out to be his costar. He has a mysterious—or at least to this viewer confusing—past in which he was an insignificant part of the sprawling Pang estate, one of scores of servants with minor connections to a member of the Pang family.

The family is in crisis—the patriarch’s son and only male heir is alive but comatose. His sister, Ruyi, is next in line to the family leadership. Having a female head of the family scandalizes the elderly advisors—they fail in their attempt to control their new mistress by appointing a distant male cousin as a kind of coadjutor through whom they plan to control things. The cousin never has a chance—like everyone else of his gender not yet in their dotage he falls in love with Ruyi. The lovingly voluptuous manner that Doyle lit and shot Gong Li insured that she would bring the audience under her effortlessly seductive spell as well.

Since Ruyi entranced with her beauty Gong Li didn’t have to stretch her acting muscles much to impersonate her—she simply had to look beautiful and let the story unfold around her. As Yu Zhong Liang Leslie Cheung had a much more formidable task, one that would have challenged a more accomplished film actor. He lacked both the technique and the actorly presence to carry off such a complex, heavy and nuanced role. This isn’t really a criticism of Cheung—few actors could have been successful here.

“Temptress Moon” is not unlike a tone poem by Richard Strauss or Jean Sibelius: lush, gorgeous, and evocative of a time and place that, while meant to resemble an Alpine peak or a dark forest in Finland is actually the composer’s recreation of his emotional reaction to such reality. Which is fine—symphonic music isn’t written to depict geography and film isn’t made to teach history. This is Chen Kaige’s view of the despair and destruction that awaits anyone who thinks he can break free of the bonds of his birth or finds love in a world driven by fear and greed.

Reviewed by: Inner Strength
Date: 11/25/2002
Summary: Average

Temptress Moon always had a certain feel about it that felt really warm. However, the end result is quite dull.

It wouldn't interest many people these days I think.


Reviewed by: dragyn
Date: 04/20/2001
Summary: Beautiful Decadence

"Temptress Moon" is a strange, disturbing and beautiful film. For the most part, however, it is sadly the cinematographer who produces memorable moments, and not the director.

The themes of "Temptress Moon" are as unusual and shocking as can be would expected from Chen Kaige. With strong elements of incest and drug abuse, it's little wonder that the film was banned in China.

The storyline itself is slow, rambling, and often difficult to follow; this muddled feeling is created by Kaige's seeming hesitance to spell anything out to his audience. So many things are suggested, and not explained, which creates beautiful, memorable images that hint at deeper issues; however, this does make the whole film quite difficult to understand. Lack of dialogue produces a similar effect.

Gong Li is wonderful as Ruyi, the delicate opium addict; Leslie Cheung, however, seems to have been less well-cast. He lacks the strength and weight as an actor to contribute much to the film; n fact, in many cases he detracts from it, giving his character a coldness that does not seem to fit in with the general atmoshpere in the film. It would seem that both Li and Cheung were cast not because of any talent they may or not possess, but because they are both "beautiful" people, and so any images containing them are more likely to be beautiful. In fact, throughout most of the film, that is the way they are treated: as visually stunning statues around which to form images. They are rarely required to speak, let alone really act.

The film is visually stunning; cinematographer Christpher Doyle ("Chungking Express") excels himself, and produces some beautiful, memorable images that truly linger in the mind. However, none of these images have as much effect as the ones from Kaige's masterpiece, "Farewell My Concubine"; the fact that there is little or no real real reason for these images, and no underlying emotion, means that the majority of them are beautiful - but leave you cold.

"Temptress Moon" is a truly atmospheric film. You can smell the opimum; taste the decadance; feel the debauched family ties closing in on you. The effect is extraordinarily claustrophobic.

In short, "Temptress Moon" is a perfectly executed film - but there seems to be very little in the characters or storyling worth executing in such a stunning fashion.


Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/21/1999

Sure, the plot is nothing new and wanders quite a bit, but this film is so well made and acted it cannot fail to be entertaining. Whatever you think of Christopher Doyle's patent "running-after-the-actors" style of photography, in this context it just works. Cheung Kwok-Ping shows that, given proper material and an intelligent director, he is one of South East Asia's best and most versatile actors. As for Gong Li, her luminous beauty endows all her scenes with a magic that has to be experienced. The film is a notch below Kaige's previous movie, FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE; there are signs or creative erosion, of "Westernisation" in his treatment of the material. But visually, this is one the best films made in any country within the last ten years. Note: In contrast to most other HK/C films (and laser discs), the quality of the subtitling is superb.

[Reviewed by Thomas Muething]

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

The latest international film by chinese director chen kaige falls far short of expectations. the story line is weak, though it could be a result of excessive censorship. lesilie cheung is again the pretty boy, who tried very hard to act. however the shallowness of his character fails him miserably. gong li has that wry smile throughout the show, a far cry from her other roles in zhang yimou films. the storyline reminds one of the cantonese tear-jerkers of the 60s. most of the audience appeared impatient with the slow pace. only the cinematography of du kefeng saved it all. he is brillant as usual, using unorthorox camera angles and is never shy running with the camera, giving the film much "fluidity". however, i feel that he had exhausted his camera skills in wong kar wai's film. what he did in temptress moon may be great, but it is all but a repetition of his previous efforts... sadly no pleasant surprises. chen kaige should perhaps concentrate on the plots of his future movies, for a film without a good storyline is like a building without sound foundations.

[Reviewed by Anonymous]

Reviewed by: spinali
Date: 12/08/1999
Summary: NULL

Christopher "Chungking Express" Doyle, the currentcinematographer of choice, does such an amazing job that the convoluted plot almost seems an afterthought. The affluent, influential Pang family has chosen Miss Ruyi (Gong Li), an acknowledged opium addict, as the head of the family as the Qing dynasty falls into ruin; trusted family servant and opium preparer Duanyu (He Saefei) is promoted to co-executor, a position he discovers is roughly equivalent to whipping boy. Things run akilter when Zhangliang (Leslie Cheung), beloved member of a crime family, is asked to score a sting on the Pang family -- in particular, Miss Ruyi. When he starts to romance her, she bites, hard. She rapes Duanyu to sharpen her oriental pleasure techniques, causing him to fall in love with her, and temptress Moon Li uses her newfound experience to win over Zhangliang. Now, two mentally fucked-up men are crazy for the woman, with unimaginable ramifications for the Pang and criminal families, who realize they have to cut their losses fast. Decadence hangs in the air like opium smoke, and so does a tang of its soporific quality (an effect I assume the filmmaker intended), and you can see why it was banned in the PRC. A vocal segment of the critical community is calling this a "soap opera," one of those labels that gets mentioned a few times and soon gets accepted as fact by people who didn't see the movie. But the misunderstanding is reasonable; Chen Kaige stages naturalistic scenes that are pruned to the branch, some of which end before any substantial action has taken place; his scenes are like quotes from a book. This is an oblique drama on the theme of power in post-revolutionary China, where the usual temptations (sex, power, and money) are wedded with one unusual temptation (Gong Li). Aside from which, it has a great twist ending, and images to die for.


[Reviewed by Steve Spinali]

Reviewer Score: 8