Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Golden Lotus (1974)

The Golden Lotus (Jin ping shuang yan) is a bit of an oddity. It’s a 1974 Shaw Brothers production, so you expect king fu and/or swordplay. What you get is sex. You also get corruption, deceit and intrigue, and you do get several murders.

It was based on a 16th century Chinese classic of Chinese erotic literature, the Jin Ping Mei, although it’s set much earlier. Ximen Qing is a wealthy young merchant, and as we later find out he’s also less than scrupulous in his business dealings. He’s even less scrupulous in his dealings with women. He collects women the way other men collect paintings or other beautiful objects. Especially women with very tiny feet. Nothing gets him more excited than tiny dainty feet.

Pan Jinlian is the wife of the local pancake seller, the dwarf Wu Dalang. And she has very tiny feet indeed. With the help of the notorious procuress Madame Wang he seduces the rather naïve Pan. Pan may be naïve, but her sexual appetites are well and truly awakened by this first encounter and soon they’re carrying on a torrid love affair. Her husband is a bit of a nuisance though, so they’ll need to get him out of the way. Soon Pan finds herself installed as Ximen Qing’s fifth wife.

But Ximen Qing has no intention of stopping at five wives (plus sorted concubines). He is soon pursuing another married woman. Pan decides she might as well have some sexual adventures as well, but this earns her a brutal beating from Ximen Qing. He is gradually revealed as a rather nasty piece of work, with a vicious temper and a generally selfish and childish outlook on life.

The main interest of the film is Ximen Qing’s household. Entirely dominated by women, whether they be wives, concubines or servants, it is a hotbed of domestic intrigues and power struggles. Survival in this household depends on developing the skills of manipulation and deceit to a fine art. A woman’s only power comes from her beauty and her sexual allure, and these must be used ruthlessly. Especially when dealing with a man as powerful, cruel and corrupt as Ximen Qing. Pan Jinlian becomes a skillful and ruthless intriguer.

The movie’s main problem is that the plot is immensely complex, and as it progresses events become more and more compressed and it can be difficult to follow exactly what is happening with so many plots and counter-plots and and affairs and seductions and shady business deals.

Shaw Brothers movies invariably look good, and renowned director Li Han-Hsang has made The Golden Lotus a very handsome film indeed. The movie’s greatest strength though is the performance of Hu Chin as Pan. She is equally convincing as the innocent victim of a shameless seducer and as the skilled artiste in intrigue that she becomes. She is very wicked and very sexy. Look out for martial arts star Jackie Chan in a small role, very early in his film career.

Despite the subject matter the sex is not very explicit and there’s not a great deal of nudity. But there’s certainly more of both than you generally expect in a Shaw Brothers movie. And some scenes do achieve a genuine erotic intensity. It’s certainly a treat for foot fetishists! It’s reasonably entertaining and represents a fairly successful attempt by SHaw Brothers to widen their appeal to a broader exploitation market. It’s a movie that is as much about power and corruption as it is about sex.

The Region 4 DVD presents the movie in its correct Shawscope aspect ratio and includes a featurette on director Li Han-Hsang.

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