The Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan

The Devil Says

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There is a rule as basic as the sun will rise: the English title of an Asian film must be inappropriate. That rules shines with "Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan" which conjures '80s Skinimax simulated sex in a dromedy wrapper. It does not say wuxia (martial arts in a "ancient " setting), which is unfortunate as that's what this film is. Yes, there is a courtesan and she does make a confession, though it is anything but intimate. The Chinese title is simply the name of the main character, Ainu. Is that more fitting? Well, this is a beautiful, rich, martial arts revenge film with a great deal of sensuality and a touch of eroticism, so it is a hard call. It is best just to say the title does not matter.

Young and beautiful Ainu (Lily Ho) is kidnapped and sold to an high-end brothel. Her fierce rebellion only gets her beaten and abused, and her virginity is still sold off to the highest bidder, though the wealthy and powerful losers get to rape her as well; they just don't get to be first. After the death of her one ally, she chooses a different route, becoming the finest courtesan and the lover to the lesbian madam, Chun (Betty Pei Ti), who passes on her mastery of kung fu to her protégée. Once she firmly establishes herself as one of the elites, loved, desired, and protected by all, it is time to turn her path back to revenge.

In broadest terms, this is a rape & revenge film, but it has little connection to that dark and cruel Occidental genre. Yes, she is raped, but there is no wallowing in the filth. In fact, the film's one real error is that it turns away too readily, ending each rape as it is about to begin with a comical freeze frame. Rape & Revenge films are ugly by choice (and often by budget constraints) Intimate Confessions is elegant. It is gorgeous, colorful interiors and dream-like exteriors. It is flowing fabrics that are lovely being draped upon the unbelievably attractive women and even lovelier as they fly about in dance-like combat scenes. Ainu does not sink into the mire to attain her revenge; she rises as a swan, and twists the heights to her whim. Yes, this is certainly rape and revenge, but you'll have to go elsewhere for your sleaze factor.

The Devil is fond of the Shaw Brothers and the multiple studios they ran. They were the main providers of kung fu and waxia films for thirty years and developed most of the film genre's tropes. They also aimed for a version of reality that does not match our own, a reality that is more colorful. It contains objects with more distinct edges and people who were more emotivemelodramatic and silly—then what modern viewers are accustomed to. It is kin to that found in the Hammer horror films and it makes their films fun to watch. They shot mainly on sound stages, which gave every outdoor scene, and most of the indoor ones, an unreal quality. But it was an unreality preferable to the real world, at least in appearance. Their plots could falter, but their cinematography rarely did.

They also mainlined surrogate cruelty with more martial arts combat scenes than you can shake a sword at. Action was their thing, and they reveled in it. Intimate Confessions is not their most violent film, but it has a healthy share of combat and gore, with blood that's too perfectly red spraying out over our heroine. The fights are top notch—perhaps my favorites in any Shaw Brothers film—due to the focus on the female warriors. When their films focused on male warriors, they tended to overindulge in grunts, comical sound effects, and staged expressions. Here, with the focus on the females, the combat is like a dance, a very, very bloody, cruel dance. The characters keep their beauty while dealing death.

Intimate Confessions changed the direction of Hong Kong film and broke through taboos. Lesbianism was not an acceptable topic, or activity, before Ainu and Lady Chun fell into each other's arms, and while their relationship is not promoted as a positive, it at least exists. Plus, no relationship is shown as a positive. Women also rarely were able to chart their destinies. For good or ill, the girls are the movers and shakers here, and if they are not always the nicest of folks, well, the men are pretty much fools and scum. Only the police inspector rises above that, reaching silly and ineffectual. It is odd thinking of this as a feminist picture, but it is one.

For how shocking it was at it's time of release, Intimate Confessions is not wall-to-wall sex and nudity. The main players are beautiful, and show that off, but neither push the bounds of PG flesh. It is only background players who strip down. It makes for some very pleasant backgrounds. Sex is implied or happens off stage. It is all very sensual, but outside of a touch of gore, not explicit.

Intimate Confessions is a joy to watch. Sure, it should have been longer in order to better develop the characters. And yes, after ten years, Ainu should have come up with a plan that involved more than "I think I'll kill them now," but those are little gripes. Just enjoy.

Sins (What does this mean?)

Pride They may be too proud, or not proud enough.  It's hard to tell, but it's safe to say you won't learn anything about the sin here.
Sloth In the beautiful brothel, the girls do like to have a nice lie down, and they do.
Avarice Money can't buy happiness, but it can rent it. The buildings are sumptuous, and the clothing gorgeous. Yes, having servants, being bathed and dressed, having your every whim catered to, yes, those things are worth having.
Gluttony They drink and eat and seem to enjoy it, but it is not dwelled upon.
Wrath Ainu is a creature of Wrath. It is what has kept her going, allowed her to learn arts, both sensual and combative. When everything is taken from you, Wrath can keep you alive and right a good many wrong.
And if you are looking for surrogate cruelty, you are in the right place. Violence abounds. I'd hate to have to count how many people get sliced up. Then there are the more individual deeds: a man is tied to a bed and set a blaze. Another is stabbed with a hairpin. Lady Chun shoves her hand through a man's chest for devaluing one of her girls (a bit of Wrath in play there too), in a scene where it is impossible to side with either. And the combo sins continue with Ainu being whipped, and then her bloody wounds being excitedly licked by Lady Chun.
Beauty So much. The cinematography is amazing, with such a deep color pallet. The sets and costumes could not be any more beautiful. The combats are beautiful. And then there are the women. So many extraordinary forms. Both Lily Ho and Betty Pei Ti are stunning, but the entire female cast is exquisite.
Thought This isn't a stupid film, which most will think it is based on the titles, but it doesn't stand out in this sin in a positive way either.
Humor There is some lightness and fun, particularly relating to the constable's vain attempts to save the rich elders.
Lust This is film of passion. The leads are likely to stir any who crave luscious female flesh. And since much of the time is spent in a brothel, sex is always in the air. A bevy of beauties that do undress helps the sexual ambiance. There's the right touch of BDSM, lesbianism, and playful sex. Many films focus on bed bouncing and genitals without entering  Intimate Confessions' league in Lust.



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Film Info

Director: Yuen Chor

Producer: Runme Shaw

Writer: Kang Chien Chiu

Cast: Lily Ho Li-li, Betty Pei Ti, Yueh Hua

Runtime: 96 min





  • After showing some skin in the film The Knight Of The Knights (1966) Lily Ho was given the title “mei yen ching wang ” which literally translates to "she is so beautiful that she should be a king."
  • It was remade in 1984 as Lust for Love of a Chinese Courtesan and was the basis for the 1992 Cat III film Naked Killer.