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Golden Lotus




Directed by Emily Chan | Reviewed by Sabarno Sinha

Jin Ping Mei (The Golden Lotus) is a name that has been associated with pornography for a very long time. Written in the 16th century, this novel dealt with a tragic love story torn apart by the lustful and vicious men of power in society. One of the six classics of Chinese literature, it is now recognized as one of the most modern novels of its time. It has been rendered an equally creative form of theatre: the musical. George Chiang’s 2014 musical of the same is an artful rendition of the novel that has been deftly filmed into “Golden Lotus” directed by Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts graduate, Emily Chan. Chan’s vision in converting this production of mammoth scale into a film is indeed ingenious and seemingly. However, after watching the film, I was so moved by the individual performances that it did not seem as though I wasn’t a part of the audience-which is the greatest disadvantage of a video recording of a production of this nature. Panning shots have been taken adequately to capture the dance and various movements on the stage and the editing has been more or less smooth throughout the film. I was astonished and quite pleasantly surprised to see how the production had incorporated elements of folk and traditional music along with modern operatic, rock and metal music. I relished the costumes and set design to my heart’s content alongside the major strength and merit of this production: its acting. Harriet Chung’s performance is reminiscent of the finest Broadway musicals. The episodes in which she, the titular protagonist, suffers a dilemma or feels great passion or unleashes her darkness through vengeance, deserves the highest of commendation. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that her acting has compensated for the seldom technical glitches as well as the inability to watch this production in person. Wu Dan’s slapstick episodes also provided comic relief amidst the more serious and gory scenes. Billy Sy deserves praise for being able to bring out the helplessness of the character in the novel alongside his inborn deficits and innocence. The group dance sequences have been choreographed brilliantly and two have particularly struck me- the dance at the introduction of the brothel and the one which shows the Lotus’ revenge. The eerie music, the erotic tension, the evil and horrific atmosphere sent chills through my spine as I watched the scenes. The moral tragedy is a visceral treat to all viewers. Coupled with this, the lighting and the evocative background music makes the entire experience sensually rich and poignant. Harriet Chung’s pieces, from the very first one where she talks of love, are so melodious that they transcend and turn to the poetry of soul. The division of scenes is also very well done as each scene ends at an appropriate point which lets the audience think of what happens next and build tension. There are some parts in the film which make use of a lot of cuts and switches to different shots. This helped to draw attention to the rising intensity of the play but this should’ve been present until the very end. It seems as though in one or two of the four performances, the operation of the camera was done in a more planned yet artistic manner. This brings me to one of the few complaints I have: the video quality of the four performances, that have been edited and strung together, is not consistent at all. The resultant effect is slightly jarring for those like me but it doesn’t affect the film or the performance in any other way. The editing of the film could also have been improved as cross-dissolve transitions have been unable to cover up important parts such as the raising of the curtains which the viewer of the film (unlike the audience) shouldn’t be shown as it only breaks the illusion of the narrative from an already distant platform. There is nothing to say of the quality of adaptation or faithfulness for the production excels in that aspect. I am left with nothing but praise for the entire technical team and creators of these gigantic sets, colorful costumes, special effects end everything else. Being involved in theatre myself, I am aware of the challenges and perseverance required for such outstanding craftsmanship and showmanship. I only wish to express my admiration and regret my inability to give a standing ovation in-person at Hong Kong, which Emily Chang and George Chiang’s “Golden Lotus” rightfully deserves.

Sabarno Sinha is an undergraduate student of English at Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He was active in the debating and MUN circuit in Kolkata. Sabarno frequently writes short stories, poems and screenplays for short films. A lover of world cinema, Sabarno finds pleasure in watching contemporary as well as classic films from Japan, Italy and Germany among others.


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