An 80's journalist, Yeun (Men), is tracked down by a beautiful young lady. She is, she confesses, the ghost of a woman who killed herself in the 30's, along with her lover. With the help of Yeun and his girlfriend, the ghost tries to arrange a fifty-year reunion with her suicide partner.
A heady, sensual ghost story and winner of more awards at film festivals throughout the world than any other Hong Kong film, Rouge begins deceptively in Hong Kongs Western District in 1934. Palpable pleasure exudes from the citys rich. Hedonistic young men tug on opium pipes in opulent whorehouses and offer fortunes merely to caress a womans ankle. None takes his pleasure more expertly than Twelfth Master Chan Chen-Pang (Cheung), heir to the considerable family pharmacy business. He falls in love with Fleur (Mui), an insouciant, high-class prostitute whose extreme beauty is surpassed only by her capricious nature. He manages, at no small cost, to claim her affections but when his parents violently disapprove, the lovers form a death-pact and collapse, entwined, after swallowing raw opium.
Hurtling forward to 1987, we find journalist Yeun being pestered by a strangely youthful Fleur who has turned up at his office to place an advertisement to contact the Twelfth Master. She reveals to a terrified Yeun that she is a ghost and enlists him and his girlfriend Ah Chor (Chu), after considerable effort, to search for Chan Chen-Pangs ghost.
The story could easily seem absurd, but director Stanley Kwan, whos just 32, beguiles you into belief with effortless time-bridging cross-edits, a swirling operatic camera and elegant special effects. The contemporary setting wavers a little after the astonishingly lush opening and the modern couple are merely engaging in comparison with the impossibly romantic spectres. But this is a truly stylish movie from a very promising young filmmaker who, though continents apart, seems-a direct descendant of the great German director, Max Ophuls.
Despite sounding like Victorian Gothic claptrap, Rouge works on all levels, but is at its finest as a sumptuous character study.