Stanley Kwan’s Rouge, one of the greatest films of the Hong Kong New Wave of the 1980s and 90s, is a classic example of that brief moment in cinematic history, when the city suddenly became one of the greatest capitals of movie-making in the world.
A tragic, moody and restrained ghost story, Rouge‘s power has only grown in resonance in the 34 years since its 1988 original release, partly due to the tragic deaths of its two larger-than-life stars, the legendary Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui.
I watched this movie in the early 1990s on a screener VHS tape provided by Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts for its Hong Kong Film Festival. Frustrated by the muddy quality of the picture and, especially, the incomprehensible nature of the haphazard subtitles, I didn’t give the film its due when I reviewed it for the Boston Phoenix.
This was how many of us Hong Kong film nerds watched these movies back then, but Rouge is a movie that draws much of its power from its visual splendor, even more than many other Hong Kong films of the era, and much more than Full Moon in New York, Kwan’s other great classic of the 1980s.
This is why critics of the time lucky enough to watch the film as it was meant to be seen were more suitably impressed. Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called Rouge “an exquisite supernatural fable, an opium dream of a movie,” and the film has been lauded extravagantly in the years since, including in the New Yorker.
Rouge opens this week at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in a new and painstakingly restored print, which also includes, thankfully, newly translated English subtitles.
— Steven S. Drachman
Rouge plays through October 27 at the BAM Rose Cinemas.