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by Bill Gibron

24 May 2008

When you think of motion picture taboo busting, the glorious efforts of the exploitation era instantly come to mind. No other film genre took the time, and the risk, of bringing the most forbidden of film subjects to the silver screen. Oddly enough, the results of these cinematic impresarios did not go unnoticed around the world. Take 1972’s Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan. The idea of kung fu lesbian prostitutes within an old world wuxia setting set tongues wagging when it was released in Hong Kong. The Shaw Brothers, infamous for pushing the envelopes within the martial arts movie, outdid themselves this time with a scandalous slice of sex, swordplay, and classic blood splattered slaughter.

When Ainu is kidnapped and brought to the brothel run by Madame Chun, she immediately becomes a problem. Belligerent and angry, she fights her captors and refuses to eat. Eventually, a mute jailer befriends her, and Ainu learns that she can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Soon, she wins Chun’s favor, and begins a systematic process of revenge on those who deflowered her when she first arrived. Killing the men one by one, she is pursued by police chief Ji, new to the area and unsure of how things work. Ainu knows she is protected by the local authorities, and brazenly admits to her crimes. Of course, once she’s finished with the former customers, it’s on to the individual who enslaved her in the first place.

It goes without saying that Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (a mouthful of a title - the original was simply the main character’s name, Ai Nu) is one of the most surreal kung fu epics ever, a literal bodice ripper that’s a potent butt kicker as well. Though the fight scenes are limited to a couple of spectacular set pieces, they really add an aura of mystery to what is, in general, a standard revenge flick. Our heroine is out to right the wrongs committed against her, and we couldn’t be happier. Star Lily Ho, perhaps best known for her early work with the Shaws, delivers a knockout performance. She’s both seductress and slayer, capable of working her way into your heart with a stare or a saber, whatever the case may be. Her action moves are flawless, arms swinging with an authority unmatched by even the most skilled male stars.

She is complemented effortlessly by Betty Pei Ti. Madame Chun is a complex character, a woman whose life in service of sex is marred by a hatred of men and a desire for power. Her lesbianism is more of a leaning than a lifestyle, a way of keeping the constant barrage of testosterone away from herself and her girls. She is more than capable of killing when she has to (she carries the classic body piercing ‘yin yang hands’), yet reserves such fatal flourishes for the very last moments of a conflict. As beautiful as Ho, perhaps even more so, Pei Ti is indeed a perfect counterpart to her costar. She’s just as rebellious as her potential lover, just not as outwardly or awkwardly so.

It’s no surprise then that the male leads of Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan are rather thin. It’s bad enough that the Shaws were dealing with the unheard of subject of homosexuality, so the standard cads and cavaliers are present and accounted for. Even Yueh Hua’s police chief Ji is constantly emasculated by Chun and Ainu. He is seen as ineffectual and unable to handle the women’s cunning and conniving. Elsewhere, brutish scoundrels bid on bodies and flaunt their failing libidos. There is a lot of dangerous gender politics in this film, something that surely gave journeyman director Yuen Chor pause for concern.

Yet Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan is one of the filmmaker’s best, a clever combination of faked Hollywood backdrops and sumptuous character costuming. Chor was new to the wuxia genre, having made his first such effort in 1970 (Cold Blade). It was said film that brought him to the attention of the Shaws. He fits perfectly within the Brothers’ brazen dynamic. He has a wonderful way with action, capturing the aerial elements with authenticity and flare. But he’s just as good with the intimate scenes, especially in a post-flogging embrace when Chun literally kisses Aiun’s wounds to make them ‘all better.’

Image’s DVD release of this long requested title captures the color saturated charms of the Shaw’s product in pristine picture reproduction. As they did with Killer Snakes, they retain the original aspect ratio and Mandarin soundtrack, providing excellent English subtitles for those of us from the West. The only bonus feature of value is a short documentary entitled “Intimate Confessions of Three Shaw Girls”. While Lily Ho (who retired from film in 1974) and Betty Pei Ti (now a singer) are not present, a trio of recognizable names from the studio take time to discuss the impact Ainu’s lesbianism had on the Chinese community, as well as the reaction in the actresses’ native Taiwan. It’s an interesting addition to the oral history of the prominent production company.

It has been said that Clarence Fok Yiu-leung based his brilliant 1992 thriller Naked Killer on Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan, and it’s not hard to see the resemblance. Both movies use sexual desire and splatterific gore to tell a basic tale of pride and payback. Chor even remade the movie himself in 1984 with Lust for Love of a Chinese Courtesan. With its combination of erotica and violence, glamour and gall, nothing can beat the original. Had it not borne the Shaws recognizable label, grindhouse fans might swear this was a Harry Novak or Bob Cresse import. Indeed, exploitation loved to challenge convention while it served the salacious needs of its horndog audiences. Everything about this Hong Kong classic screams prurient and perverted - and devotees wouldn’t want it any other way.



by Terry Sawyer

23 May 2008

Little Dragon’s 2007 album never quite garnered the momentum it deserved despite the blogosphere hype that’s launched a hundred lesser careers and artists.  Singer, Yukimi Nagano, has a crystalline R&B timbre to her voice, like Erykah Badu re-tooled for one of those Nordic lounges constructed from cloudless ice sheets.  Almost every Little Dragon song (except the ultra-infectious “Forever”) doesn’t have the smacking immediacy of contemporary American R&B.  Their ballads are glacial and complex; their upticked tracks too whimsical and devoid of posture and cliché. 

For me, this video represents the charming details of making a lo-fi visual representation of a song.  It’s almost as if the video is a constant series of in jokes, like the washed-out pastel t-shirts that look as if they were suggested by someone’s mother so that everyone would “match”.  But there are other subtleties that can be visually arresting.  When Nagano skillfully taps out a rhythm on a tambourine, it’s actually sexy.  That’s hard to imagine in a genre where sexy usually involves butt floss swimwear dripping with off-brand corn oil.  Even the dirty mop-topped back-up dancers seem like a tongue-in-cheek nod to the arbitrary surrealism that passes for serious artistry in many videos.  I’ve also come to appreciate videos that eschew coldly angular choreography for something more spontaneous and individualized (or at least the appearance of individuality and spontaneity).  “Test” looks like it was a fun video to make; you can see it in the tamped down grins that crack through the faux serious faces they wear as they clumsily mime their way through the shrug dance of the Robert Palmer girls.

by PopMatters Staff

23 May 2008

Marcia Ball
Live at the Highline Ballroom [Video]

Part 1:

Part 2:

Chemtrails [Streaming]

Luke Doucet
The Day Rick Danko Died [MP3]

Darker My Love
The Fool [MP3]

Dappled Cities
Green Door (Gogi Grant cover) [MP3]

Cut Copy
Hearts on Fire [Video]

Band of Horses
No One’s Gonna Love You [Video]

by Vijith Assar

23 May 2008

You gotta hand it to LA-based songwriter AM, he chose his unfortunate stage name before the internet was a major concern and has stuck to it even though it has rendered him all but invisible to Google.  Here are some of the places you’d have been more likely to end up if it hadn’t been for us:

You’re welcome.

by Mike Schiller

22 May 2008

I love Metacritic.  Really, when you want to read about a game, where else can you go to find five, ten, 15 articles on that game, all offering an evaluation and some insight into what it has to offer?  I mean, Wikipedia, maybe, but not for obscure games that nobody knows about.  So please, don’t misunderstand.

The problem I have is this:  When you see rumblings, you see message board postings, you see off-handed comments on websites, but you can ignore those.  It’s no secret that there’s an uncomfortable relationship between those assigned to promote video games and those assigned to review them.  Sometimes, PR will go to great lengths to convince the critic that a game is worthwhile, offering swag, big packs of press releases espousing the virtues of the game, and even the occasional big exclusive to a big outlet (see: the hubbub over IGN’s exclusive GTA IV review).  Why do PR companies care so much what the critics think?

Because Metacritic numbers matter.  Apparently.

Gyruss, a personal favorite, is at risk for the axe.

Gyruss, a personal favorite, is at risk for the axe.

The rumblings (and if these rumblings have been confirmed somewhere and I don’t know about it, please tell me) are that PR people get bonuses if the Metacritic numbers stay at a certain level.  If this is the case, it’s not entirely fair that a PR person should be responsible for the review scores of a product that they had no part in creating, but it certainly explains why the packages we get when we get games tend to be bigger than the size of, well, games.

Microsoft made an announcement yesterday that confirms the sheer presence that Metacritic currently holds in the industry.  Microsoft is cleaning Xbox Live Arcade, removing the chaff from it, the things that nobody’s downloading, the things that were ridiculed when they came out and simply never took off.  The criteria for removing those games from the service?  A title must be six months old, it must have a 6% or less conversion rate (that is, less than 6% of those who downloaded it as a demo purchased the full version), and it must score below 65 on Metacritic.

Perhaps it’s benign, perhaps it’s just numbers and I shouldn’t make a big deal about it, but what Metacritic doesn’t reflect is the “cult classic”, Metacritic doesn’t take into account personal preference, Metacritic doesn’t take into account those games dismissed by the masses that, against all odds, develop a small, devoted, loyal following.  Metacritic is a series of numbers that adds up to one number, a number that allows for no subtlety, for no understanding of how people really feel about it.  Sometimes the most interesting games are the most polarizing, and you can’t express polarizing in a number.  And Microsoft has legitimized that number, by allowing the criteria for their Xbox Live Arcade cleaning algorithm to include it.

And, hell, where else am I going to get Triggerheart Exelica?

//Mixed media

Because Blood Is Drama: Considering Carnage in Video Games and Other Media

// Moving Pixels

"It's easy to dismiss blood and violence as salacious without considering why it is there, what its context is, and what it might communicate.

READ the article