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Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan
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Lily Ho and Betty Pei get comfy in Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan.
AKA: Ainu  
Year: 1972  
Director: Chor Yuen  
Producer: Run Me Shaw  
Cast: Lily Ho Lei-Lei, Betty Pei Ti, Yueh Hua, Tung Lin, Fan Mei-Sheng, Chan Shen, Man Chung-San, Ku Wen-Chung
The Skinny: A Shaw Brothers film about sexy sword-fighting hookers with overt lesbian tendencies. What more do you need to know?
Review by
Calvin
McMillin:
     With a title like Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan, one might expect to see a soft-focus erotic film that regales its viewers with the many conquests of a sultry lady of the night—a sort of an Emmanuelle in China, right? Well, hold that thought.
     The film actually begins in the midst of things as chief inspector Ji (Yueh Hua) investigates the murder of a local nobleman. After questioning the dead man's servant, Ji learns that a prostitute named Ainu (Lily Ho) was the last person to see the deceased alive—DUM DUM DUUUM! Cut to the lovely Ainu frolicking in fluttering silken robes as the main title sequence rolls. Moments after the director credit flashes onscreen, we are suddenly swept into the past, as Ainu reflects on her troubled beginnings.
     Abducted and sold into a life of prostitution, the beautiful Ainu is presented by her kidnappers to the brothel's lesbian madam, Lady Chun (Betty Pei). Ainu's fiery attitude gets her locked away in a dungeon while the other victims are subjected to some candle-lit vaginal inspections (yeah, you read that right!). To what purpose? Well, it seems Lady Chun and the abductors have an agreement that none of the young "recruits" should be touched upon delivery, presumably to preserve their virginity for the brothel's wealthy customers. But when Lady Chun learns that someone had decided to sample the goods beforehand, the malevolent witch unleashes her wrath upon the poor kidnapper in a sequence that makes it crystal clear that Chun is one lady you don't want to mess with.
     The all-powerful madam takes a liking to Ainu and tries to shows the young beauty how comfortable life would be if she merely gave in to her Sapphic tendencies, but despite the allure of riches and luxury, Ainu remains defiant. For her trouble, Ainu is brutally thrashed with a cane by the malicious brothel-keeper. From there, Chun helps Ainu lick her wounds (literally!) and performs an unsolicited bit of oral sex on her helpless captive as the soundtrack screeches along, mirroring Ainu's horrible plight. To make matters worse, a select group of wealthy "johns" are bidding on Ainu in the hopes of getting first dibs on the poor young woman. Though one man wins, they all, in turn, rape Ainu, each resorting to their own particular fetish.
     Ainu's plight earns the attention of a sympathetic, presumed-to-be mute servant named Yan Shunzi (Man Chung-San). But Yan soon breaks his silence to relate his own tragic backstory to Ainu, hoping to focus her despair into vengeance against her captors. He tries to help her escape, but their plan goes awry when they walk into an ambush by the deadly Lady Chun and her minions. The vicious madam effortlessly dispatches with the Good Samaritan in short form, and seeing no other way out, Ainu tries to kill herself. Not surprisingly, Yan stops her, saying with his dying breath, "If you die, who'll take revenge for me?" Truer words were never said.
     In order to exact her vengeance, Ainu decides to accede to the wishes of Lady Chun, becoming the madam's protégé and lover. From Lady Chun, Ainu learns kung fu, swordsmanship, and the finer points of ancient Chinese whoring. Cue the soft focus lesbian kisses, please.
     Here, the film picks up where the pre-credit sequence left off with Chief Ji on the job. The murder victim turns out to be one of the wealthy rapists and though Ainu is obviously the culprit, the incorruptible Ji finds it increasingly difficult to do anything about it. Not only is there a lack of concrete evidence, but Ainu has friends in high places—affluent patrons whose lust for Ainu blinds them to her crimes. And then the bodies start piling up with Ainu's bloody trail of vengeance leading back to the brothel for the final confrontation. But given the sexual relationship between Lady Chun and Ainu, will mentor and student fight side by side or against one another in the finale? The answer isn't too terribly shocking, but the minor twist to the ending will satisfy most viewers, abrupt as it may be.
     So, in the end, does Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan live up to the promise of its title? If you're looking for erotica, the answer is no. This film certainly contains a lot of kink, but basically, it's just a Shaw Brothers revenge movie with a teensy bit of nudity. To expect anything more than that would be to set yourself up for disappointment. Although controversial in its day, the movie provides little more titillation than the latest Herbal Essence commercial. Actually, the film probably would have been sharper if the filmmakers had eliminated the nude scenes entirely. I mean, who wants to see a chuckling, diminutive old man fumble at the bare breasts of young women? I sure don't, but maybe I'm not as kinky as the intended audience.
     Another curious aspect of the film is the handling of the rape sequences. While Ainu's rape scenes will certainly elicit the required amount of disgust, they are not in the least bit harrowing and are seemingly played for laughs thanks to the director's overuse of such distracting techniques as freeze-framing, in-and-out zooming, and a porno-style soundtrack. It's difficult to say whether or not the film would be better served by hewing more closely to the disturbing reality of rape (in fairness, that might be unbearable), but it still seems crass to make it the object of humor.
     If one checks their expectations of what an "adult film" is supposed to be at the door, this movie works rather well as an atypical revenge flick shot with that patented Shaw Brothers sheen. There's just something aesthetically pleasing about seeing two combatants fighting in blood-spattered white robes on a snowy, artificial-looking Shaw Brothers soundstage. And speaking of blood, I would be remiss not to mention that the gore factor is minimal aside from a character getting two of her arms lopped off in the climax, one of which just so happens to pierce a man's chest and stick all the way through! Ah, it's those little things that make Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan walk the fine line between respectable revenge yarn and camp classic. (Calvin McMillin 2003)
Notes: • Reportedly, this film inspired Clarence Fok's Naked Killer.
• Remade as Lust for Love of a Chinese Courtesan (1984), starring Candice Yu and directed by Chor Yuen.
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Intercontinental Video Limited (IVL)
Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Removable English, Chinese, Thai subtitles
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image courtesy of Celestial Pictures
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