Issue #217           HOME          E-mail:        BACK ISSUES               June 22nd, 2004

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Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan
(1972; Shaw Brothers)

Cantonese: Oi lou
Mandarin: Ai nu
English: Love Servant

RATING: 8/10


Enthusiastically championed by director Clarence Fok Yiu-leung as the primary inspiration for his cult sensation NAKED KILLER (reviewed in issue #140a), this Shaw Brothers period production was among the most anticipated on the Celestial re-release schedule and has also enjoyed selected theatrical screenings stateside as part of a touring SB film festival. It opens with a green-tinted prologue in which police inspector Ji De (Yueh Hua) investigates a murder apparently committed by a prostitute named Ainu (Lily Ho Li-li). Flashbacks reveal that Ainu was among a number of maidens kidnapped by brigands under the orders of regal, lesbian madam Chun (Betty Pei Ti). Although the girl's virginity is auctioned off in the usual manner to a group of rich deviants, Chun is attracted to her beauty and pluck and takes Ainu under her wing. Soon deeply infatuated, she imparts all of her martial arts skills to the girl, who goes on to become the establishment's number one attraction. When a second murder occurs, Ji deduces that Ainu is eliminating the men who raped her years earlier but his hands are tied, as he has no concrete evidence and the suspect enjoys great privilege with the upper echelons of society. So great is her protection that Ainu even secretly visits the policeman and openly admits to the crimes but nothing the lawman says to the next targets on her list will dissuade them from continuing their dalliances.

Yueh Hua (left), Lily Ho Betty Pei (left), Lily Ho Betty Pei

The renewed availability of the Shaw library has raised the international profile of director Chor Yuen (or Chu Yuan in Mandarin), previously known in the West mostly for a handful of undistinguished 1980s pictures and acting stints in films like POLICE STORY (where he plays the gang boss targeted by Jackie Chan's gung-ho cop). Chor's work offers a distinct stylistic contrast to his main counterparts at the studio, Chang Cheh (THE FIVE VENOMS) and Lau Kar-leung (THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN), directors more concerned with martial arts action than delicate imagery. By contrast, Chor made very careful use of wardrobe and the studio's gorgeously stylized "interior exteriors" to establish a lush and striking aura that sometimes involves the viewer more than his film's storylines (frequently adapted from Gu Long swordplay novels and rife with ambitious characters engaging in convoluted acts of duplicity). INTIMATE CONFESSIONS OF A CHINESE COURTESAN features martial arts (including a particularly lethal technique called "Ghost Hands," which allows the user to plunge their fingers into an opponent's chest) and is structured very much like the prototypical kung fu film of the period, with Chun and Ainu providing the master/student dynamic. The main thrust of the story is revenge, the raison d'etre of far too many martial arts movies, but INTIMATE CONFESSIONS... also injects elements of mystery, softcore erotica, and romantic melodrama (Chor began his career scripting the latter during the mid '50s), preventing easy classification. While strictly decorative and more campy than persuasive, Chun's love for Ainu was one of the most overt early examples of homosexuality in HK cinema (though the male bonding of Chang Cheh's work is certainly open to that interpretation as well). The picture includes some innocuous nudity and mildly perverse elements (after whipping a defiant Ainu, Chun proceeds to lick the open wounds on the girl's back), and was certainly targeted to the exploitation market by the studio. However, the poetic imagery and exceptional care taken with virtually every aspect of production will pleasantly defy the expectations of those familiar only with HK period erotica of the early '90s "Sex and Zen" cycle. There are a few drawbacks here: the unnecessarily short running time does not allow for a full appreciation of the characters and their motives, and the score (which features a handful of cues very much a product of the early '70s) is jarringly awkward in spots. Regardless, this is a fascinating addition to Chor's filmography and a very welcome re-issue. The supporting cast includes Fan Mui-sang as the leader of the maiden nappers and Chan Shen as a particularly decadent nobleman with his own private torture chamber.

Lily Ho (left), Betty Pei Yueh Hua Lily Ho


INTIMATE CONFESSIONS OF A CHINESE COURTESAN was among Celestial's first anamorphic releases and is not as sharp as one would hope. The hue and detail levels are still more than acceptable, and the image remains quite stunning overall, but one cannot help but be a bit disappointed by how soft some shots are, given how carefully the element has been restored; the post-synced Mandarin language track is clear. The Special Features section offers the original theatrical trailer (faded almost to B&W) and a video promo spot, promos for four other titles, production notes that merely duplicate the single paragraph write-up on the packaging, and a photo gallery. An 18 minute documentary about the film features Clarence Fok and Yonfan (two directors whose films tend to feature more intelligent and sympathetic depictions of homosexual characters than is the norm in HK cinema), and radio personality/movie commentator Kwan King-chung offering their takes on the movie's importance and how it stood out from other productions in terms of approach and influences. Chor would go on to remake INTIMATE CONFESSIONS... for Shaw Brothers in 1984 as LUST FOR LOVE OF A CHINESE COURTESAN (also now available).

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Images in this review courtesy of Intercontinental Video Ltd. To read captions, hover mouse over image.

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Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2004. All Rights Reserved.

DVD Specifications

  • Hong Kong Release
  • NTSC Region 3 Only
  • Intercontinental Video Ltd. #612336
  • Post-synced Mandarin Language
  • Subtitles (Optional): English, Traditional Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesian
  • 12 Chapters
  • 16:9 Enhanced (2.35:1)
  • 86 Minutes (at 25 frames-per-second)

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Great Britain: X (cut)
  • Hong Kong: IIB
  • Ontario: R
  • Quebec: 18+
  • Singapore: PG (cut)
  • Contains moderate violence, sexual content, and brief nudity


  • 10 A Masterpiece
  • 9 Excellent
  • 8 Highly Recommended
  • 7 Very Good
  • 6 Recommended
  • 5 Marginal Recommendation
  • 4 Not Recommended
  • 3 Poor
  • 2 Definitely Not Recommended
  • 1 Dreadful