J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Old School Kung Fu ’17: Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan

It’s time for 50 shades of the Shaw Brothers. It might seem pretty tame to us now, but in its day, this 1972 film was billed as the first Shaw sex movie. When a resilient peasant girl is abducted and sold into a brothel, she quickly becomes the star attraction. Bare breasts, floggings, and lesbian make-out sessions soon follow. She can fight too, but so can her mistress in Chor Yuen’s Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan, which screens during this year’s Old School Kung Fu Fest at the Metrograph.

Maybe you could argue Madam Madame Chun Yi is so adept at catering to her pervy old clients, because she shares their tastes. That is particularly true of her latest acquisition, Ai Nu, but the trafficked woman is having none of it. She even tries to commit suicide, but she is saved by “the Mute,” a former bandit now forced by injuries to toil as a lowly servant. When he is killed during their escape attempt, she swears to avenge him (and get some payback for herself), but in the meantime, she pretends to make nice with Madame Chun.

In fact, she up-manages Chun so well, the Madam will even run interference for her when she starts killing her creepy regulars. Of course, none of that sits well with Chun’s partner, who has long carried a torch for her—obviously to no avail. The honest new sheriff in town also feels duty bound to prevent murders, but he does not yet understand the full context of her vendetta.

Even without the steaminess, Intimate Confessions is a bit of a mind blower. Frankly, it is about as risqué as Ingrid Pitt’s lesbian-themed Hammer vampire films from the same period, but Hong Kong was a much different market in 1972 than America or the UK. This is truly feminism at its most lurid: men are dogs, who deserve to die—and to prove the point, here’s some skin to ogle. Plus, it has to be conceded: the big climatic fight sequence is a barn-burner.

Regular Shaw Brothers leading lady Lily Ho took her career to the next level portraying Ai Nu a stone-cold force to be reckoned with. However, Betty Pei Ti steals the show outright as the flamboyantly villainous and recklessly lusty Madame Chun. She clearly evokes a sense of classical tragedy, but she could also hold her own against Sybil Danning’s prison wardens.

Intimate Confessions definitely stands apart in the Shaw Brothers filmography, but the wuxia production elements are all first-class. Fu Liang Chou’s score also has some funky seasonings that might be anachronistic, but work well in context. Its excesses are rather stylistically distinctive as well as indulgent. Highly recommended for all Shaw Brothers fans, Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan screens this Saturday (8/19), as part of Old School Kung Fu 2017 at the Metrograph.

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