“ROUGE” – The lipstick color-code of times past betrayed by a ferroconcrete present

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Yanzhikou as multi-code: jewel box, opium snuff box, engagement pendant


Retro-Chic or Retro-Decadence – or both.


Before launching out into this essay, I feel I owe it the reader to confess my dislike of post-Mao Hong Kong – heresy though it might be to declare such a thing. I guess my grudge develops from the disappearance of the wonders that had entranced me when visiting from 1967 to 1969: the Repulse Bay Hotel with its eskimo fans; the cross-bay ferries which provided a breather for the time-stressed tourist; the Kai Tak airport with its dramatic roof-scratching landing paths; of course Aberdeen (still there but with only 2 restaurants); the crack-of-dawn for-sale buns; the ethnically gathered restaurants (Gaylords!) along Lockhart Rd; even the towering Sikh guards with their never-used rifles to keep Red Guards at bay. Where has all this gone? You can scarcely see the Bay any more because Connaught House with its ocean-liner port holes standing alongside an array of similarly “modern” ferroconcrete monstrosities together cut off the view of the Kaitak drama (12 mins to the ferryboat) until one is well up the hill topped by Govenment House.

All the more strange then that a “Hong Kong retro” style has come to the fore in this film and elsewhere. For Hong Kong as retro” location” was/is an oxymoron: the need to build vertically (to keep up with Shanghai’s outward spread and zoned architectural keynotes) has wiped away any outward remains of inner city life (which in film anyway must be at street or underground level), reducing even Lockhart Rd to a tame tourist trap ( was told to go to Singapore…). There is no longer any “there” there, in spite of the magic of the gondola and Peak.

Yet the Hong Kong “style” flourishes at or even ahead of the “fore”, as Rouge (1987) quite clearly is vis-a-vis Zhang Yimou’s nightclub-and-opium featured Yao-a-yao. (1995), or Chen Kaige’s Temptress Moon.

Or that Hong Kong should next become the virtual set for a breathtakingly beautiful modernist dancer’s apex performance in 2004 (eponymous title of this post). In turn a translation into dance of Wong Kar-wai’s (b 1958 – a “Hong Kong Second Wave” director) “In the Mood for Love” (2000), whose theme music guides the first half of the dance but then (referencing the film) makes a repeat appearance in Maurice Bejart’s ballet Huayang Nianhua (2006-7). Though NOT set in HK, Che Kaige’s Temptress Moon (Fengyue) (1997), narrates a cognate tale: decadent dandy opiates to death, or at least to disownment, in the process losing his only loyal mistress.

The “Beautiful” (fengliu) Die Young. Shelley Requoted?

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