Reviewed by: sukting

August 17, 2010

Rating: three-point-five

How long
2 hours

It is directed by Kwan Kam Pang. The movie is the adaptation of the novel by Lee Bik Wah. Does it differ from the novel? I watched it in the cinema with my classmates.

Story/Introduction on characters

Chan Cheng Pang (Cheung Kok Wing) is known as the "12th Young Master". Although he is the second in the family, his family gives him this nickname. His eldest brother is dead. Chan Chen-Pang is therefore the heir to the family fortune. If the family has angered the spirits, or are unlucky, the second child could be the next to die. He is a playboy who loves visiting the opium dens in 1934.

One day, he meets the high-class and much sought-after courtesan, Yu Far (Mui Yam Fong). She disguised herself as a man and sings the opera pieces. He joins her by adding a sentence. (Mui is excellent in this scene to sing fantastically.) he gives her a board that uses her name to form a sentence in 10 words – she is like the moon in a dream but is distant like the flower.

This steals her heart and both begin a passionate love affair. This raises opposition by his family. He brings Yu Far home. His mother looks down on her and gets her to try a dress, hinting that only a virgin can fit into it. Yu Far keeps the sorrow to herself but Cheng Pang manages to know about it. He hugs her from the back and she can hold her tears no more.

Cheng Pang moves into Yu Far’s room to leave home. Both kiss passionately by moving all over the room. With no skills, he has to become a stage extra. Yu Far brings him to learn singing through an opera singer and he has to go through a lot of training. Both have a weak addiction to opium to add matters worse. His fiancee, Shu Hsien (Wan Bik Har) comes visit him with his mother and is distaught to see this.

His mother reprimands him for letting his family down by leaving home and ignoring the business. Shu Hsien only stares quietly at Yu Far – the woman who ruins her happiness. Cheng Pang still refuses to return home. He is constantly in Yu Far’s room, waiting for her return to share the bed together. He has little chances of getting famous and he gives up the hope to become reliant on her.

Seeing no way out, on March 8 at 11pm as they use up their savings, the couple decides to commit suicide together by swallowing opium. They promise to meet again in the afterlife with the date as a code. Cheng Pang is hesistant but obeys her. After waiting for Chan in hell for 50 years, Yu Far returns to the world of the living to look for him, wondering why he has not arrived.

She is now a ghost. She searches for her lover in a Hong Kong which she no longer recognizes. She decides to place a newspaper advertisement seeking Chan (using the code "3811", to indicate the eighth day of the third month at eleven pm, the time of their suicide). She goes to the news agency to enlist the assistance of Yuen ( Man Tse Leung) and his suspicious girlfriend, Chor (Chu Bo Yee).

Yuen has a fright on the bus when Yu Far has nowhere to go and keeps following him. He has to put her up in his home. That makes Chor jealous and wants to see how a courtesan’s breasts are like. Yu Far calmly removes her outer clothes to press her hand onto it. Chor has a fright of her life when she discovers that she has no heartbeat and finally believes that Yuen is devoted to her.

Yu Far can only smell food but can’t taste it. The couple pities her. Seeing her suffering from the heat in the day, they keep her in the room with the blinds drawn. Pitying her with no money, they place the ad in the newspaper for free in the end.

Yu Far reads old news that Chen Pang is still alive.She is surprised, dismayed and feels cheated. Chen Pang did not die in the suicide pact. Even though she wants him to die together by tricking him to add sleeping pills to eat opium, he manages to live. Doctors pump his stomach to let him live on. He is too weak to seek death a second time to return to his family.

Yuen is intially agitated at her cheating Chen Pang. Yuen only knows that Chen Pang swallows the opium. Yu Far has kept the part of the sleeping pills from him. How is she going to expect him seek death again? Yu Far is unfortunate to die on her own. There is no response till Chen Pang’s colleagues reveal that he isn’t dead at all. Neither is he famous and his son also despises him. Chen Pang causes his mother, Shu Hsien to work to her death to bring him up and he doesn’t want to see him again.

Due to his overspending, he is reduced to poverty where he becomes an old and forgotten man well into his late 70s. He is now making a living as a Chinese opera stand-in and living in the cramped quarters of the opera set. He still boasts of his past. Just then an actress (Wai Ying Hung) shouts at the director on how to become a ghost and a sowrdswoman at the same time?

Yuen and Chor bring Yu Far to the quarters. They see her going to Chen Pang quietly. He recognises Yu Far instantly as she has never changed all these years. He begs her for her forgiveness but she does not want toget cheated anymore. As she goes away, Yu Far realised that he has suffered much more than she had. His guilty conscience has haunted him for so many years.

She returns the rouge case he gave her 50 years ago. Retribution has been paid in kind and she is content to leave as she finds her answer. The end is her singing of the themesong. Yuen and Chor feel sad for her as they stroll away from the quarters.

Most favourite character
None, they have plenty of shortcomings.

Most hated character
Chen Pang for ruining the lives of two women.

It is Rouge – the title for this movie by Mui Yin Fong . The music is written by Lai Siu Tien and lyrics by Tang Jing Sang. It loses to Wu Nien Zhen’s Gui Hua Town in the golden horse awards but is the winning song in Hong Kong Film Awards. It is an excellent song that delivers Yu Far’s sadness well for being let down. It deserves the attention but my only complain is that it is too short!

Interesting facts

It wins many awards - 1988 Torino International Festival of Young Cinema: International Feature Film Competition Special Mention, Nantes Three Continents Festival: Golden Montgolfiere.

The movie makes Mui wins 3 best actresses awards at 1988 Golden Horse Film Festival, 1989 Asia-Pacific Film Festival and Hong Kong Film Awards. That was a rare victory and she was overjoyed that she was finally recognised as an actress.

It also won other awards in Hong Kong Film Awards : Best Director (Kwan Kum Pang), Best Film Editing, Best Original Film Score by Lai Siu Tien, Best Original Film Song and Best Picture. For Golden Horse Awards, it also won Best Editing and Art Design.

The film title Rouge refers to the cosmetic, which was a red strip used to colour the lips before the invention of the lipstick. Yu Far enjoys using it. When she meets 12th Master, he gives her a case of rouge as a love token. She returns it when she finally meets him again 50 years later, signaling their end.

The role of Chan Chen Pang is very minor in the book. Lee Bik Wah is the author and one of the scriptwriters. She is very fond of Kok Wing. So she decided to add more scenes for Chan. But still, it wasn’t enough screen time for him to be nominated for best actor for Golden Horse and Hong Kong Film Awards. Kok Wing was disappointed but accepted this arrangement.

Bik Wah did not want his efforts to go to waste and stood up for him. Kok Wing worked hard to portray the stage opera scenes. Many had also questioned if the old man was really him. It was indeed him – we know that Kok Wing loved to be looked in his best in every movie. Yet, he was willing to make such a big sacrifice to go under 5 hours of process to look old.


It was considered a female movie but I marvel at Kwan for shooting it well. The sets, costumes and cast were fit for that era. Selecting Mui to act as Yu Far was a daring move but she proved to be the top choice. She deserves to win all the acting awards as she puts in so much hard work. She displays Yu Far’s bitterness well – it must be linked to her difficult childhood. It could be seen through her eyes although she doesn’t speak much.

Her mannerism also suits the era well. She is so elegant as a courtesan but away from work, she becomes more simple. I am surprised as she was often very modern in real life. Her make-up can be scary too. I can still remember how a child cried in the cinema after seeing her spooky appearance in the movie. Like what I said, guys may not like it as the pace is slow.

However, her matching with Kok Wing might give others an older sister, younger brother impression although she is younger than him. Kok Wing pairs up well with her in acting though and it is regretful that he doesn’t get nominated at all – not even as a supporting role. Man Tse Leung and Chu Bo Yee also give in their best although their scenes are quite limited.

I have read the novel and must declare that I don’t really like it. Kwan seems to be pitying Yu Far all the time. I will think of her as a person who breaks up a family. If not for her, Chen Pang might have a happier ending. She encourages him to take up the vice of opium. She has also ruined another woman’s happiness by stealing her husband. Chen Pang is a jerk that is also beyond redemption.

It is impossible to see Kok Wing and Yin Fong working together anymore. So do cherish the chance to watch it if the television station screens it. It is a definite masterpiece that is worth watching repeatedly.

Sukting’s ratings :

On acting : ****1/2 (Scale of 5)

On story : *** (Scale of 5)

On songs : ***** (Scale of 5)

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