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C (2001)
Peony Pavilion

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 03/22/2006

Exquisitely composed, Expertly crafted, PEONY PAVILION is hypnotizingly graceful to the eye, undeniably seductive to the senses, and gently evocative to the mind. The acting is near perfect, and Joey Wong is easily at her best that I've ever seen. As a bonus, listen to Brigitte Lin's voice in the narration.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: mejones
Date: 03/21/2002
Summary: Abolutely brilliant!

This film is everything that most HK films are not: it has incredibly high production values, it's lush, revolves much around Konqu Opera, the pacing is languid, costuming deserves every award imaginable and the performances are perfect! Oh, and there's actually a script that doesn't meander all over the place making you feel like a rat in a maze! WOW! IMHO this film deserves to be up there with such classics as "Farewell My Concubine" and I don't understand why it hasn't received a world-wide release (to my knowledge anyway).

The plot? Did you really want to know? Well, on a very basic level it's the story of two very different women, Jade and Lan, who become friends and then some during the 1920-30s (or so). We meet them both during the elaborate birthday celebration for Lan's cousin; Jade is his fifth concubine. Eventually we learn that before her marriage Jade was an opera singer/prostitute(?) and her performances brought her to the attention of both Lan and her cousin (who we never really see except once or twice at a distance). From here the story reveals much about Jade's trapped and unhappy life, despite the oppulance that constantly surrounds her. Slowly this world is beginning to disintegrate as her husband squanders all of his wealth, lying about smoking opium constantly.

In some respects the less said about the story the better. There are no huge twists in the plotline and as I mentioned, it strolls along languidly, much like Jade as she passes her time circling the garden, carrying a bird cage and evesdropping on the family butlers. Recommended if you're looking for something different in a drama. Wonderful performances from Joey Wang, Rie Miyazawa as Jade and Daniel Wu as Joey's brief but significant love interest.

Reviewed by: bastardswordsman
Date: 01/16/2002

For me, PEONY PAVILLION is the film of the year. The TIME magazine blurb on the back "watching Peony Pavillion is like getting high on the opium smoke" sums up this mesmerizing film for me rather well. A sumptuous pallet accompanies a musical score to combine with an almost hypnotic effect.

I have never really rated Joey Wong's acting talent, but I must say here that her performance is impeccably polished and that of Rie Miyazawa complements her beauty with awesome effect (watching the smoke trail from their mouths almost had me relapsing after 5 weeks of stopping). Daniel Wu is someone whose screen presence is maturing, previously I felt sometimes uneasy with his performances. Here, he has the enviable talent for "bringing out the animal in a woman" - marvellous.

I don't feel the need to add much more -Danton's review below pretty much hits the nail on the head.

Joey Wong, please don't retire.

Reviewed by: Inner Strength
Date: 01/13/2002
Summary: Yonfan saves the day

It seems to be a while since Yonfan has worked on a masterpiece like this, this has got to be the best film I've seen this year. There is enough of the story in the other reveiw, but it's a remake of a classic story. The whole feeling of this movie is excellent, the music, the backgrounds, the costumes, everything. Yofan is one of those few directors who can turn anything into something great, like the way Tsui Hark used to do movies. Joey Wong is excellent as ever, and she has said in interveiws that this is to be her last film, as she is retireing after recently getting married too.

It's well worth watching. It has a 'Flowers Of Shanghai' feel to it at times, but much better. I recently got both Joey Wong & Yonfan to sign the soundtrack for me too, which is an ambition in itself for me, because I am a fan of Joey Wong from day one!

Rating: 4/5

(This rating is based on the year & genre, so don't think it's based as a comparison on new releases etc.)

Reviewed by: danton
Date: 01/04/2002

Two and a half years in the making, this new effort by auteur Yonfan (whose last film was Bishonen) is a unique and at times dazzling invocation of the decadence and decaying beauty of the old China in the early part of the 20th century. Set in Suzhou of the 1930s, the plot is centered around the lives of two women: Jade (played by Japanese actress Rie Miyazawa in a well-dubbed performance) is a former songstress who has become the fifth wife of an aristocrat who is wasting away his days in isolated splendour, smoking opium and living in a dreamworld of China's past opulence and glory while his fortune and family are crumbling all around him. Lonely and depressed in her isolated existence, Jade strikes up a friendship with her husband's female cousin, Lan (Joey Wang), a teacher at a girls school who embraces modernity while still being deeply moved by and longing for China's past beauty and splendor.

Their friendship develops into an intense relationship that forms the emotional center of a plot that involves basically cheap romance fiction cliches but nevertheless avoids deteriorating into melodrama, as it unfolds in a manner that steers away from predictable formula. Much is only hinted at or left unsaid, including the sexual nature of the two women's relationship. Daniel Wu is billed as the male lead, but he doesn't show up until the second half of the film, and his relationship with one of the women remains a side story that is never fully explored.

However, retelling the plot misses the true essence of this film, which is a visual delight driven more by atmosphere, ambience and a loving attention to period details (costumes, props) than by a straight-forward narrative. The first half of the movie in particular has almost a meandering, dreamlike quality, as if filtered through the haze of opium smoke that seems to surround and envelop the lush settings of the aristocratic household. Themes of decay are everywhere - servants are selling off family heirlooms, and the protagonists are strangely paralyzed by nostaligic longing for a world that seems to be vanishing forever. This longing finds its strongest expression in the extensive use of Chinese Opera music. The first part of the movie almost borders on being a musical, with characters constantly breaking into song interludes. These moments are well-integrated into the story, however, and while it may at first be somewhat off-putting to Western viewers not totally versed in the intricacies of this artform, it succeeds in creating a unique and very poetic spell that is further supported by gorgeous cinematography.

Many of the songs (as well as the movie title) are taken from a well-known Ming Dynasty masterpiece and are presented with an endearing, melancholic earnestness. In presenting these interludes, the film at times almost reverts to a stageplay, forming one prettily arranged tableau after another. The camera often stays set at a discreet distance, letting the scene play out without forcing the viewer's perspective. Yonfan doesn't quite remain as detached as many of Hou Hsiao-hsien's movies (Flowers of Shanghai comes to mind), though, and as the movie progresses, the camera movement becomes increasingly lively.

In the second half of the film, the settings become more modern, leaving behind the world of Chinese opera and hence the soundtrack moves towards more Western-influenced music, reminiscent of Michael Nyman's scores for Peter Greenaway films like Prospero's Books.

The lead actors are convincing throughout, with Rie Miyazawa being particularly imnpressive in the first half of the movie. Joey Wang comes to the fore mainly in the second half, and she handles her role with subtlety and passion. If this indeed turns out to be her last appearance in a movie, then she has left the stage in admirable fashion and will be missed.

In the end, the movie evokes a lost world of beauty and decadence, leaving many hauntingly gorgeous images lingering in the viewer's mind. As a purely aesthetic experience, the film succeeds in impressive fashion, although one would have hoped for a somewhat stronger narrative to accompany all this visual splendor. In that regard, it probably doesn't measure up to some of Zhang Yimou's early works such as Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern, but it is nevertheless a satisfying achievement and definitely ranks as one of the best films of the year.

The VCD is exquisitely packaged, letterboxed, with Dolby Digital 2.0 Mandarin soundtrack and very readable subtitles.