There are easily enough ideas and plot in this overpacked combination of history, drama, romance, and literary revisionism to fill three films. But the makers of THE REINCARNATION OF GOLDEN LOTUS have settled for making just one film, and it fails to find a dramatic focus until its
final, frenzied minutes. At the center of the movie is Lotus, Chinese literature's infamous "slut of all time." During the 10th-century Sung dynasty, Lotus was the central character of a classic Chinese pornographic novel about a beautiful woman who is abused, raped, sold, and murdered by the men
in her life.
The film's prologue finds Lotus (Joey Wang) beheaded and awaiting admission at the gates of Hell. Given a chance to be reincarnated, she vows to take revenge on the male sex. The film then flashes forward to the People's Republic of China in 1968, at the height of the Cultural Revolution. Lotus is
now a ballet student. After fending off the advances of a Communist party official who offers to help her career in exchange for sexual favors, Lotus is denounced as a counter-revolutionary by the official and as a slut by her female teachers and fellow students. Expelled from the arts academy,
she is forced to work in a garment-making sweatshop. There, she becomes attracted to fellow worker Wu-long (Lam Chun-yen), who's also the star of the sweatshop's basketball team. Saving her meager wages, Lotus buys him a new pair of sneakers. But when her past catches up with her, Lotus is once
again branded a traitor, accused of stealing the sneakers, and then condemned for squandering the people's money on the "frivolity" of new sneakers when she denies the theft. To make Lotus's humiliation complete, Wu-long is forced to take a leading role in her public censure.
Exiled to a village that caters to tourists, Lotus works as a fruit seller and prostitute until a Hong Kong businessman (Eric Tsang) proposes marriage. But after moving to Hong Kong, Lotus finds that her new husband's brother, chauffeur, and confidant is none other than Wu-long. Soon, Lotus is
tormented by visions of her past life, and her personality splits. As the modern Lotus, she taunts Wu-long for his cowardice, but as the ancient Lotus, she brazenly tries to seduce him. Consumed by her old desires, Lotus ventures to a high-class Hong Kong sex club, where she abandons herself to a
night of pleasure with sensualist Simon (Sin Lap-man). However, she leaves behind a sheet of paper with her home address and phone number written on it, and Simon begins phoning Lotus, threatening to reveal their affair to her husband. A professional photographer, Simon then contacts Lotus's
husband directly, inquiring about renting the family estate for a photo shoot. In a scene reminiscent of Glenn Close's surprise home visit to Anne Archer in FATAL ATTRACTION (1987), Simon even dares to show up in Lotus's living room. At this point, Lotus, still unconscious of her notorious past
life, finally stumbles upon a copy of the original Golden Lotus novel. Skipping to the end, she finds that the story climaxes with the murder of the heroine's husband by her lover, followed by the murder of the lover and the heroine by her enraged brother-in-law. In short order, Lotus is put in
the position of trying to prevent this literary bloodshed from being repeated.
Hong Kong-born, British-educated director Clara Law shows great promise in what is only her third full-length film (and second commercial feature). GOLDEN LOTUS demonstrates a dizzying directorial range, incorporating aspects of feminist drama, romantic comedy, and melodrama, with a flurry of
martial arts action thrown in for good measure in the film's absolutely riveting finale. While this mix never quite gels, and the film proceeds in fits and starts, by the time the picture finally does kick into gear, the wait is more than worthwhile. Even when it isn't quite working, THE
REINCARNATION OF GOLDEN LOTUS is engrossing, benefiting from strong performances and Law's stylish, whirlwind-paced direction.
Law's biggest mistake is that GOLDEN LOTUS bites off more than most audiences can chew in one sitting. Nonetheless, it is rare to find a film from any nation that can boast as many tasty morsels as this one can. (Violence, sexual situations, nudity, substance abuse.)
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- Released: 1990
- Rating: NR
- Review: There are easily enough ideas and plot in this overpacked combination of history, drama, romance, and literary revisionism to fill three films. But the makers of THE REINCARNATION OF GOLDEN LOTUS have settled for making just one film, and it fails to find… (more)