Live Action: Peony Pavilion

August 23rd, 2004

This movie is not new…in fact, I remember showing it at the Yuricon party at Anime Expo 2002. So, it’s been around for some time. But as I’ve never reviewed it here before, I thought it might be of interest. Before I even begin to talk about the movie, let me tell you the story of how we found it:

I, the wife, and friend and Yuricon staffer, Kun, were walking along the street in New York’s Chinatown one winter night. We were passing all sorts of video places, not really paying attention, when we all came to a crashing halt at the same time. We took five paces back and stared with open desire at the color poster of some really hot chick in a tux looking very ready to kiss another woman. So, we popped into the video store and asked for a copy of whatever that poster was for – not really even caring what it was. ^_^ The owner told us that it was sold out. Sold out? We wandered to another store – same deal. At store number three we learned that it was like the number one import at the moment, so no wonder! And we *finally* got our own copy of Peony Pavilion.

Let me honest here – we had NO expectations for this movie. We didn’t think it would be really Yuri at all, in fact, we were content with the postcards that came inside of Joey Wang looking hunky in a tux. But when we finally got the disk in the player, we were totally wowed.

Of course, nothing ever happens between the women in this movie – it’s all long glances and open, yet unfulfilled, desire, etc. etc. But it doesn’t matter. Joey Wong (who came out of retirement to play this role) and Rie Miyazawa absolutely curl the edges of the film with their heat in the first half of the film.

The first half sets the scene in an affluent Chinese household of the 1930s. While the master of the house loses himself in bad business deals and opium, his wives are left to fend for themselves. Joey Wong plays a singer who tends towards cross-dressing in men’s clothes (and does it *very* well indeed!) Rie Miyazawa is the youngest wife, for whom Wong has an open passion. The two of them play around the edges of their desire for one another, while life seems glorious and carefree. But underneath the play, there’s a dark undertone of rot, which sets in quickly enough after Miyazawa’s character sleeps with a young traveling performer.

The second half of the movie begins with such an abrupt change of setting, tone and sensibility, we actually questioned whether it was the same movie at all.

Wong turns out to be a lonely spinster teacher. Into her life comes an (admittedly attractive) inspector, played by Daniel Wu. With her longing for her friend unfulfilled, she turns to Wu as a replacement and again, the heat between them is very intense. In the meantime, her cousin’s household is starting to crash – as if she were a piece of furniture, Miyazawa and the daughter she has conceived with the entertainer, are thrown out as unneeded, unwanted and unsupportable.

She comes to live with Wong, where they settle into a life of domesticated bliss. The child is remarkably not irritating – which is a wonder, since film children are always too cute and clever for their own good.

Because this is a Chinese movie, there’s really no way for it to have a happy happy ending. BUT…as it’s not 100% positive that Miyazawa’s character is dead at the end, and Wong is still alive, this wins as the happiest Chinese movie I’ve ever seen. ^_^

So – in one sense the girl gets the girl, but in several other ways, she does not. Balance that against Joey Wong in a tux, and this movie still wins points with me as a must-see.

Story – 7 It’s a little inconsistent.
Cinematography – 10 Absolutely breathtaking.
Characters – 9
Yuri – 8

Overall – 8

Peony Pavilion is definitely a “chick movie”. Boys will be bored out of their skulls, but girls will sigh with longing…a GREAT date movie. ^_^

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2 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like an interesting movie, though the bittersweet ending does make it less of a ‘must watch’.

    Speaking of Asian cinema, will there be a review of Fire upcoming?

  2. Hadn’t thought about it. Fire received alot of press when it came out. I’m more into trying to tell people about things they may not have already heard of. But…who knows? Maybe one day I’ll review it. :-)

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