In the vast filmography of both Shaw Brothers and Chor Yuen, “Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan” manages to stand out, due to its disregards for the taboos of the era and its permeating eroticism, which occasionally reaches the borders of sleaziness.
Beautiful Ainu is abducted and sold to the infamous Four Seasons Brothel, who is run by the notorious Lady Chun. Ainu resists in the beginning, in a series of actions that lead her into being locked into a dungeon. Eventually, one of the people in the brothel tries to free her, but meets the rage of Lady Chun, who kills him brutally. Ainu is tortured, but Lady Chun, who happens to be a lesbian, takes a liking to her, and tries to show her that life could be much comfortable if she succumbed to her. Her feelings, however, do not obstruct her from pimping her to a number of members of the aristocracy, who bid for her virginity, although they all take their turn with her, each indulging in his own unique fetish
Eventually, Ainu succumbs to Lady Chun, becomes her mistress, and even learns kung fu from her, including the secret technique named “Ghost Hands”. As she appears to enjoy her life in the brothel, a number of murders start occurring in the area, and the local police chief, newly arrived Chi Te, suspects Ainu, as a deadly game of cat-and-mouse initiates, where love also seems to play a significant role.
Nudity, sex among lesbians and contiguous raping is not one usually expects to watch in a Shaw Brothers film, but “Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan” does include them all, although not in very graphic fashion. However, the presence soft-core elements does not mean that the action is scarce or artless; to the contrary, the martial arts element is quite strong, through a number of impressive and very brutal fighting scenes, with the ending one being the most impressive, as it highlights Simon Chui’s work in the choreographies. Add to that the aspect of unrequited love, which is presented in two different cases, a social comment regarding the corruption of the rich and the inability of the law, and the presence of two femme fatales, and you have the backbone of the film.
In that fashion, Chor Yuen creates a world where no one is even virtually good, with the exception of the policeman, who proves utterly inadequate to face the world he is supposed to police. In this setting, love is used solely as means to an end, and sex and pleasure is the dominating dogma, with the finale providing the apogee of this concept.
Regarding the production values, the interiors and the costumes are impeccable as usual in the works of the company, with Chen Ching-Shen doing an impressive job as art director. Chu Chia Hsin’s cinematography follows the action very closely, while the sex scenes are mostly implied than actually depicted. Expectantly, the abrupt zoom-ins to the faces of the protagonists, accompanied by fitting music, are quite frequent, as they induce the film with a sense of nostalgia for the cinema of the era.
Lily Ho gives a great performance as Ainu, with her transformation from a helpless victim to a femme-fatale/vigilante being the highlight of her performance. Betty Pei as Lady Chun is equally great in the role of a cruel woman who falls in love, while the chemistry of the two gorgeous women is one of the film’s best traits. Yuen Hua as the police officer and Tung Lam as a man in love with Lady Chun play the victims to perfection. All of the cast play their roles with a distinct theatricality, which fits the aesthetics of the movie to perfection, through a very entertaining hyperbole.
“Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan” is a truly unique entry in the universe of Shaw Bros, a film that fans of old kung fu movies will enjoy as much as the fans of exploitation.