Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (1973) by Chu Yuan (?)

Chu Yuan's erotic masterpiece and one of the true classic movies from the Shaw Brothers Studio


Watching Shaw Brothers movies is a unique cinematic experience and a time capsule into another era of filmmaking. From the distinctive intro known to fans of martial arts movies around the world to the studio settings and to the bright red blood that splattered across many a scene, the movies have a distinct look that cannot be mistaken for any other studio. "Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan" was released in 1972 at a time when more exploitative elements were being introduced to capture audiences interest. Whilst many of these movies have dated as a consequence, this one still holds up well due to the talent both in front of and behind the camera lens.

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Ai Hu (Lily Ho) is abducted and brought to the Four Seasons Hotel run by its madam Chun Yi (Betty Pei Ti). Chun Yi breaks down her charges resistance by selling her virginity off to a number of wealthy benefactors whilst falling in love with her herself. This attraction results in Chun Yi teaching Ai Hu several martial arts secrets as she becomes the most sought-after of her girls. Ai Hu though plots to take her revenge on those that have wronged her using all the skills that she has learned despite the determination of Inspector Chi Te (Yueh Hua) to prevent her from achieving this goal.


Reading that synopsis, the impression would be of a full-on exploitation movie full of nudity, lesbianism and violence. Whilst these elements are present in the movie, this is far more than just run-of-the-mill exploitation and these elements are for the most part restrained. The female leads dominate the screen and are clearly too much for the male cast. The nominal male lead, Yueh Hua's Inspector Chi Te, doesn't even appear until the second half and then proceeds to always be one step behind, constantly being outwitted by the vengeance-seeking Ai Nu.

Director Chu Yuan us perhaps best-known for being the antagonist in Jackie Chan's "Police Story." Yet his time at Shaw Brothers saw him as perhaps one of their finest directors of Wu Xia Fiction. His adaptations of Gu Long's novels often adding a touch of surrealism to the stylised artificialness of the studio set productions. Here he gets to add eroticism to the mix as well as drawing strong performances from the two female leads.


Indeed this is what makes the movie stand out from others of it's kind. Shaw Brothers and indeed Wu Xia cinema itself has always had a history of strong female characters at their core. But to find two such roles in what outwardly is an exploitation movie is a pleasant surprise. Lily Ho has the more rounded character arc as she journeys from exploited abductee to angel of vengeance manipulating all around her as she does so. Betty Tei Pi matches her for screen presence as the confident madam weakened by her attraction and their scenes together have an erotic charge that burns the screen.

By contrast, Yueh Hua struggles with his underwritten role as the hapless inspector. He's perfectly serviceable in the part but is completely outshone by the leading ladies. With the exception of an ill-fated fellow captive played by Chung Shan, the rest of the male cast is a suitably loathsome line up designed to elicit sympathy for Ai Nu as her vengeance is undertaken.

Indeed it's to the film's credit that it is able to maintain it's approach throughout and not allow the Inspector to be the heroic rescuer in the final reel and conform to a variation of stereotyping.


The look of the film as ever in a Shaw Brothers movie is incredible. The Studio settings can be off-putting to the uninitiated but the level of detail is astonishing. The score too is one of the finest of its era and adds to the lush atmosphere.

Whilst it does contain nudity and some typically violent swordplay the film never veers into full exploitation. Instead, we are rewarded with one of the best of the Shaw Brothers Studio productions. A rewarding variation on the Wu Xia theme with two of the strongest female roles of its era.

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Asian Film Vault: Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (1973) by Chu Yuan (?)
Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (1973) by Chu Yuan (?)
Chu Yuan's erotic masterpiece and one of the true classic movies from the Shaw Brothers Studio
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