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Temptation of a Monk

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One of the few women directors working in Hong Kong today, Clara Law has emerged as an acute observer of the realm of the senses for whom story line is almost secondary. While most of her films concern the differences between cultures and generations, it's betrayal and temptation--both visceral and emotional--that interest Law the most in Temptation of a Monk. The story, adapted by Lilian Lee from her own Tang dynasty epic (she also coscripted Farewell My Concubine and Law's The Reincarnation of Golden Lotus), concerns the moral dilemma of General Shi (Wu Hsin-Kuo): defending the feeble prince he serves or siding with the prince's brother in mutiny. Guilty over his choice--disloyalty--Shi rejects the love of Princess Scarlet (Joan Chen) and goes into self-imposed exile. Both Scarlet and Shi's archrival, the renegade General Houda, pursue him relentlessly, and though he finds refuge in a monastery he can't quite resist all the worldly pleasures offered him, including the carnal advances of Scarlet in various guises. Law, who studied film in London, takes her visual cues from Kurosawa (the battle scenes) and Fellini (the surreal orgies); but the film's luxuriant eroticism--typified by the caressing shot of Chen's shaved head--and its faithful re-creation of a colorful period in Chinese history (circa the seventh century) are totally her own. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, March 26, 6:00, and Tuesday, March 29, 8:00, 443-3737.

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