health is a bit iffy on this Ming era floating island. Medical misconceptions will lead to some very
bad decisions. Old fashioned passion and
jealousy will only compound problems.
Love and leprosy are contagious in Zero Chou’s Ripples of Desire (trailer here), which screens during the San Francisco
Film Society’s annual Taiwan Film Days.
Snow is the most coveted courtesan in the House of Flowers, but she harbors a dark
secret shared only with her sister, White Frost. Snow is in the early stages of
leprosy. As the sisters contrive ways to
withdraw her from daily courtesan life, Frost supplants her as the favorite of
their madam. When the commerce-minded
Moon discovers the truth, she commands Snow to seduce Wen, the new resident
music teacher, to “transfer” her disease to him.
it does not work that way. Regardless, Snow is not inclined cooperate, because
of her burgeoning feelings for the awkward pedagogue. Meanwhile, Frost plays a dangerous game,
spurning the affections of Scarface, her would-be lover-pirate, in favor of the
well-heeled, but shallow Sir Li. Whole-heartedly
assuming the femme fatale role, Frost concocts a scheme with Li and Scarface’s Master
Hai to fake the tea merchant’s abduction, funding their new life with the
anticipated ransom. However, Li’s wife,
Lady Jen, disrupts the plan, unexpectedly arriving to handle the matter in
person. Her courage and beauty make quite
the impression on Master Hai, despite his pseudo-relationship with Moon.
there will be no shortage of betrayals in Ripples. Given its cocktail of pirates, courtesans,
and leprosy, it is safe to assume there will not be a lot of
happily-ever-afters for anyone. Known for her lesbian-themed indie films, Chou branches
out into more mainstream commercial territory here. For a historical epic, Ripples is unusually stripped down and small in scope, but the intimate
scenes crackle with love and intrigue.
Chen and Michelle Chen are not actually related, but they certainly look like
sisters, just as they did in the relentlessly sweet rom-com Hear Me (a prior Taiwan Film Days
alumnus). The former is particularly impressive
as the deeply complex Frost, while the latter trembles like a delicate orchid.
Of course, Simon Yam
brings the appropriate swagger as Master Hai, but he also nicely ups the tragically romantic
ante in his scenes Li Xiaoran’s Lady Jen.
Frankly, he is the MVP amongst the guys, easily outclassing pop star
Jerry Yan and TV star Joseph Cheng.
At times, Chou over indulges the stylization at
the cost of narrative clarity, but there is no mistaking the ardor and yearning. Indeed, it jerks the tears quite
effectively. Recommended for fans of tragic
historical romance, Ripples of Desire screens
this Sunday (11/3) at the Vogue Theatre, as part of the SFFS’s Taiwan Film
Labels: Simon Yam, Taiwan Film Days '13, Taiwanese Cinema, Zero Chou