ContactSales: Star Alliance, Hong Kong ([email protected]) [Asia]; Serenity Entertainment, Taipei ([email protected]) [outside Asia]
Theatrical release: Taiwan, 28 Dec 2012; China, 6 Sep 2013.
Presented by Taiwan Culture Ministry (TW), TC-1 Culture Fund (TW), Vision 3 Films (TW), Ko Hiong Lang (TW), TIK Films (CN), Beijing Silver Dream Film & Art (CN), Beijing Baishijia Culture Communication (CN). Produced by Vision 3 Films (TW), South Island Film (TW), TC-1 Culture Fund (TW), China Film Co-Production (CN). Executive producers: Max Fang, Zero Chou, Xue Guizhi, Liu Shabai, Fan Xiaodong. Producers: Mimi Wang, Zero Chou, Song Ning, Tiffany Zhang, Ding Fan, Hoho Liu.
Script: Zero Chou. Photography: Hoho Liu. Editing: Chen Po-wen, Zero Chou, Hoho Liu. Music: Chen Ming-chang, Li Che-yi. Song music: Chen Ming-chang. Lyrics: Zero Chou. Production design: Lau Man-hong. Art direction: Tang Chia-hung, Hsu Shan-shan. Costume design: Jessie Dai. Sound: Chen Wei-liang. Action: Jen Po-yen, Lin Wan-chang. Visual effects: Kent Chang (Kent Animation Digital Independent Production). Second camera: Chuang Tzu-ying.
Cast: Ivy Chen (Bai Xiaoshuang/White Frost), Jerry Yan (Scarface), Michelle Chen (Bai Xiaoxue, Xiaoshuang's elder sister), Joseph Cheng (Wen Xiu, the music teacher), Li Xiaoran (Zhen Furong/Lotus), Simon Yam (Hai Yuan, the pirate leader), Sandra Ng (Madam Moon), Mao Zijun (Master Li, Furong's husband), Hsu Yi-ching (Azalea), Chin Wen (Chin), Tao Chuan-cheng (chamberlain), Kao Meng-chieh (Boss Chih), Hokka Lin (lame grandfather), Chung Yao (Spring), Su Chiao-chi (Autumn), Chen Hsiao-en (Ping, the maid), Tang Ching-hui (Yuner, singing courtesan), Kuan Chi-hui (Guihua, singing courtesan), Wu Pi-lien (senior helper), Kao Tien-fa (Ong), Boelo Niemeijer (Boelo, the Spanish businessman), Fang Pai-hua (his interpreter), Chiang Cheng-lin (Turtle Claws), Cheng Tung-tsun (Zhao, the government official), Liang Chieh-li (Baozi), Kuo Yao-jen (Doggie), Tung Yen-ting (Little Weed, the boy), Wu Chieh-min (the girls' father), Cheng Yu-ting (young Xiaoxue), Liao Tzu-ching (young Xiaoshuang).
Ripples of Desire 花漾
2012, colour, 2.35:1, 122 mins
Directed by Zero Chou (周美玲)
By Derek Elley
Wed, 17 July 2013, 09:30 AM (HKT)
Costume yarn set among courtesans and pirates lacks any sense of drama or passion. Asian events.
Drift Island, somewhere in the South China Sea, Ming dynasty China, mid-July. During the Ghost Festival, a young courtesan, Azalea (Hsu Yi-ching), tries to escape from the brothel run by Madam Moon (Sandra Ng) but drowns in the nearby sea. The small island is a refuge for adventurers and pirates, and is "protected" by the buccaneering Hai Yuan (Simon Yam), who casually has a Spanish businessman (Boelo Niemeijer) killed by one of his men, Scarface (Jerry Yan), when the former tries to muscle in on his business. One of Moon's courtesan-singers, Bai Xiaoshuang (Ivy Chen), dreams of escaping to a new life, maybe with the help of young Scarface. Both she and her elder sister, Xiaoxue (Michelle Chen), were raised in the brothel after being shipwrecked as children along with their their doctor father (Wu Chieh-min), who'd contracted leprosy from one of his patients. The father drowned, and Moon took in the girls. Moon invites a musician, Wen Xiu (Joseph Cheng), from the south to voice-coach Xiaoxue; but when she discovers Xiaoxue has the beginnings of leprosy, she replaces her as the brothel's star attraction with Xiaoshuang. However, Xiaoxue has grown to like Wen Xiu; and meanwhile, Xiaoshuang sets her eyes on new arrival Master Li (Mao Zijun), a wealthy tea merchant who is unhappily married to Zhen Furong (Li Xiaoran), the true owner of his business.
What should have been a sensual exploration — set in a lusty pirate's haven — of how people use and are used by money and their feelings turns out to be anything but in Ripples of Desire 花漾 (2012). Hampered by a production design budget that clearly isn't up to the job (however much the nimble photography tries to hide the fact), the movie is also constrained by some curious Greater China casting that doesn't blend easily. Most of all, however, it's fatally weakened by writer-director Zero CHOU 周美玲's inability to construct any convincing drama or evoke any on-screen passion, with the result — spread over an increasingly flaccid two hours — that Ripples hardly disturbs even its own placid emotional surface.
Chou's first big-screen feature in almost five years, and funded partly by Mainland money, it could have been a big step up for the Taiwan film-maker, taking her out of the lesbian film-making ghetto through which she made her name at festivals (Spider Lilies 刺青 (2007), Drifting Flowers 漂浪青春 (2008)) and into a wider arena — sexually, thematically and geographically. It's certainly her most accomplished film to date and, at its best, shows Chou can do more than just cater to a small, card-carrying audience. But after a start that briefly promises something different, Ripples soon shows all her usual weaknesses: poor exposition, arch dialogue, lack of any emotional depth to the characters, and dramatic cliches replacing an original voice.
Set during the Ming dynasty on a small island that's become a haven for pirates, the story focuses on two orphaned sisters who were raised by a brothel madam when their ship went down. Various characters — a young pirate, a musician and a tea merchant — offer them avenues of escape, but the biggest challenge is the leprosy they both contracted when young. Opening during the mid-July Ghost Festival, the first half-hour is confused in introducing all the protagonists but does at least set up a promising array: the quiet elder sister, the more ambitious younger one, the bottom-line madam, her on-off pirate lover, and the girls' various amorati. But Chou's script can't construct a convincing drama out of all these ingredients, and the film's lack of any rhythm — another recurrent fault of her previous movies — makes it a choppy ride.
The cast don't do much more than clock in and say their lines. As the pirate leader and brothel madam, Hong Kong veterans Simon YAM 任達華 and Sandra NG 吳君如 give the film some solid grounding but Yam lacks any real menace and Ng any real bite. The younger male actors, cast with an eye on the youth market, are colourless: with a headscarf, long wig and facial scar, Taiwan TV actor-singer-model Jerry YAN 言承旭 looks like a rocker who's misplaced his guitar; his compatriot, TV actor-model Joseph CHENG 鄭元暢 is weedy as a "musician from the south"; and Mainland TV's MAO Zijun 茅子俊 is only fractionally more impassioned as the weak husband of a wealthy tea merchant.
As the latter, China's LI Xiaoran 李小冉 (The Chinese Botanist's Daughters 植物園 (2006), Driverless 無人駕駛 (2010)) is as elegant as usual, and manages to bring some feeling to her role of a cheated wife. But the film largely rests on the shoulders of the two Taiwan actresses playing the sisters — Michelle CHEN 陳妍希 and Ivy CHEN 陳意涵, here re-teamed after also playing siblings in the hit Hear Me 聽說 (2009). Michelle Chen, especially hot since You Are the Apple of My Eye 那些年，我們一起追的女孩。 (2011), again shows her limited range with what is largely a puppy-like demureness. Ivy Chen, in a fuller-written role, registers much more strongly as the ambitious one of the two, but doesn't get much to bounce off from either Yan or Mao. Though both actresses (unrelated in real life) are actually now 30, it doesn't help that Michelle Chen consistently looks younger in the role of the elder sister.
When she's not trying to artfully hide the insufficient budget, regular d.p. Hoho LIU 劉芸后 (who also doubles as a producer and co-editor) occasionally creates sensual effects via lighting and fabrics, but not in any consistent way. So, too, Taiwan composer CHEN Ming-chang 陳明章, who initially uses discreet Chinese instrumentation but later opts for potboiler orchestral music to belatedly try to stir up some drama. A couple of action scenes are staged, shot and cut OK, but don't seem to have a place in what is basically a straight drama. The film's Chinese title is simply the name of the brothel, Rippling Flowers.
The film was screened in an incomplete form — some 15 minutes shorter and prior to the final sound mix — in the Kaohsiung Film Festival's "Trans-Border Taiwan" section on 19 Oct 2012.