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ۮ (1997)

Reviewed by: danton
Date: 07/03/2003

Despite featuring one of my favorite actresses (Charlie Young), I've had this UFO production collecting dust in my growing pile of unwatched movies for several years, until I finally forced myself to give it a try.

This long hesitation was probably caused by the fear that this film would turn out to be a tiresome glorification of female friendship, with lots of melodrama and evil male characters. Well, that fear turned out to be justified to an extent. That the film remains watchable despite some of these shortcomings is in large part due to the work of the two main actresses (Carina Lau and Charlie Young) and because of the exquisite camerawork, which makes the two heroines consistently look gorgeous, and features Hangzhou and the West Lake in its most photogenic light.

The story is set both in the past (ca. 1930s) and in the present, with the modern scenes featuring Theresa Lee (the one with the annoying voice) playing a woman with a less than satisfying love life, who accompanies her family's former servant to China to reunite her with an old friend. The story of that friendship is told in interwoven flashbacks set during the Republic and with imminent Japanese attacks as the historical backdrop.

Apparently, there really was a group of "self-combed" women (as the Chinese movie title calls them) who had pledged themselves to a life of chastity and female solidarity. Charlie Young plays a young girl fleeing from a loveless marriage her parents are trying to impose on her, who ends up with these women while working in a silk factory. She soon befriends the factory owner's mistress and future eighth wife (Carina Lau), and the rest of the historic backstory amounts to nothing much more than showing their growing bond and their suffering at the hands of evil men. The only non-negative male figures in the movie are bereft of any sexual dimension, such as fathers etc. No wonder the two women finally succumb to the inevitable and tentatively begin exploring what the Victorian age euphemistically called Sapphic Love.

If you strip away the pseudo-feminist layers, the plot is essentially pulp melodrama. Now I like melodrama as much as the next guy, but the problem with this film is that it just not has enough of it. In order for melodrama to be effective, it has to be poured down the audience in spades (preferrably accompanied by some song and dance numbers, as exemplified by the masters of melodrama, the Bollywood film industry), but Intimates opts for a more subtle approach that ends up feeling tepid and unengaging. For example, the scene at the docks, with the lovers separated, the Japanese bombers looming, the tears flowing, etc. could have been played to the hilt, instead of the timid fashion that this film chooses. About the only time where this approach works is in the abortion scene, which is underplayed to good effect.

Anyway, the movie is watchable but not memorable. For a much better take on melodramatic Lesbian Love, watch Yonfan's gorgeous Peony Pavillion instead.

Reviewed by: ElectraWoman
Date: 10/29/2000
Summary: 4/10-Melodramatic Trash

Sure, I liked how a Hong Kong deals with a lesbian relationship respectfully, after seeing SO MANY homophobic ones. However, I found this film sooooo dull, and the acting, in most part, so strained, that I found myself turning off. It's too melodramatic for me.

Oh, a bit of information about a "combed woman". They're working women who will forever remain virgins, and they live together. In order to gain an afterlife, they'll pseudo-marry someone, and give some of the money they earn to their "husband". Their "husband" is free to marry someone else who will have sex with them, but the first son they have will belong to the "combed woman". How do I know this? A relative of mine was one.

Reviewed by: grimes
Date: 04/08/2000

The Intimates, to sum it up, is a lesbian melodrama. Of course, a summary like
that really doesn't do the film justice so allow me to elaborate.

The Intimates starts with Wai (Theresa Lee speaking in English, which is like
fingernails on a chalkboard) in modern Hong Kong. She has agreed to escort
her father's nanny to the Mainland, where she is going to meet an old friend.
This is little more than a plot device to start the real story, which happens
entirely in various flashbacks, starting with a scene where Foon has just
become a "combed woman" (some sort of sworn virgin). Her family, however,
has promised her in marriage in exchange for money which they cannot afford
to pay back. When they come to take her back against her wishes, she
threatens to kill herself. She is rescued by Wan, who tosses Foon the money
she needs from a boat and then dissapears.

If you think the beginning sounds melodramatic, you're right. But the rest of
the movie is even more so. We follow Foon and Wan through various trials and
travails while watching them fall in love with each other. There are the
requisite betrayals, separations, forces beyond their control, and so on.
Despite the fact that the protaganists are in a lesbian relationship, there is
little in the movie that will seem terribly new or surprising.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Most movies that deal with homosexuality
in any way tend to focus on the issue of sexuality. The Intimates completely
glosses over this topic in order to address much more universal concerns. This
is perhaps the most unusual aspect of the movie. It's adherence to a fairly
standard romantic melodrama format, with only one deviation, seems to be
fairly daring. In a more enlightened world, this wouldn't even be notable, but
in ours it certainly is.

The Intimates is both well written and extremely well acted. Carina Lau and
Charlie Yeung are entirely convincing, and their falling in love is completely
natural. Theresa Lee gives an excellent performance, as does Gua Ah-Leh.
Unfortunately, the modern sequences are largely forgettable. The writer
intends to draw parallels between what happens in the flashback in Foon and
Wan's life with events in Wai's life. Unfortunately, we just don't spend enough
time in the present to really develop a strong interest in Wai's life, so these
scenes feel a bit forced. While watching them I was generally thinking of how
much I wanted to get back to the real story.

I have heard that there is a 162 minute director's cut of this film, which I
would very much like to see. The Intimates is a beautiful film to watch, but
there are some moments when it seems like some of the backstory has been
edited out.

One of the film's weakest points is its music. Fortunately, the music is not
abominable and interfering, as in Comrades, Almost a Love Story. However, it
is uninspired. Unfortunately, per standard melodramatic formula, we hear it a
lot. Generally, music in a melodrama is designed to heighten the emotion of a
scene. In The Intimates, the music is often a bit off for the mood of the scene.
It is not bad enough to be entirely distracting, but it adds nothing more than
noise to most scenes.

Despite its flaws, The Intimates is a good film, particularly in the performances
of the two leads. Carina Lau and Charlie Yeung fans will not be dissapointed.
Just don't go expecting a Hong Kong version of The Incredibly True Adventure
of Two Girls in Love