Temptress Moon

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Temptress Moon
Theatrical release poster
Traditional 風月
Simplified 风月
Mandarin Fēng yuè
Directed by Chen Kaige
Produced by Hsu Feng
Sunday Sun
Tong Cunlin
Written by
Screenplay by Shu Kei
Cinematography Christopher Doyle
Edited by Pei Xiaonan
Distributed by Tomson (Hong Kong) Films Co., Ltd. (China)
Miramax Films (US)
Release date
  • May 14, 1996 (1996-05-14) (Cannes)
Running time
130 minutes
Language Mandarin

Temptress Moon is a 1996 Chinese film directed by Chen Kaige. It was jointly produced by the Shanghai Film Studio and the Taipei-based Tomson Films. The film saw Chen reuniting with Leslie Cheung and Gong Li who had previously worked with him in his breakout international hit Farewell My Concubine.

Ye Zhaoyan's A Flower's Shade was believed to be the basis for the film,[1] although Ye was not credited in the film.[2]

Temptress Moon premiered at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, where it was in competition for the Palme d'Or that eventually went to Mike Leigh's Secrets & Lies. Despite its international profile, however, the film was banned by state authorities in Mainland China.[3]


  • Gong Li as Pang Ruyi, the only daughter and ruler of the Pang clan.
  • Kevin Lin as Pang Duanwu, a distant cousin to Pang Ruyi.
  • Leslie Cheung as Yu Zhongliang, the brother-in-law to Ruyi.
  • He Saifei as Yu Xiuyi, Zhongliang's sister.
  • Zhou Ye Mang as Pang Zhengda, Ruyi's brother and husband to Yu Xiuyi;
  • Patrick Tse as Biggie, a Triad boss who employs Zhongliang as a gigolo in his extortion schemes
  • Zhou Jie as Woman on Zephyr Lane, Zhongliang develops a personal attachment to this woman who the Boss wishes to blackmail.
  • David Wu as Jingyun, Ruyi's betrothed as a child.
  • Zhou Xun a nightclub girl
  • Chang Shih Li Niangjiu
  • Lin Lian Kun as Pang An
  • Ko Hsiang-ting as Elder Qi
  • Ren Lei as the young Yu Zhongliang
  • Ying Wang as the young Pang Ruyi
  • Lin Ge as the young Pang Duanwu


Childhood at the Pang estate[edit]

The film opens in 1912, immediately before the fall of the Qing Dynasty and the abdication of Emperor Pu Yi. The Pang clan, a wealthy family in a small town near Shanghai is suffering a similarly drawn out decline. Yu Zhongliang (Leslie Cheung), then a 13-year-old boy, arrives at the Pang estate to live there along with his sister Yu Xiuyi (He Saifei) and her husband, Pang Zhengda (Zhou Yemang). There, he is treated like a servant by his brother-in-law who forces him to kiss his own sister while intoxicated by the effects of opium. In revenge Zhongliang poisons his brother-in-law's opium pipe and flees. Chen Kaige, however, deliberately leaves the audience in the dark, making Zhongliang's flight from the Pang estate all the more mysterious. As Zhongliang attempts to find his way to Beijing, however, he is taken by several men who lead him to Shanghai where he is embraced by the triads.

Zhongliang's return[edit]

Years later, Zhongliang has become a handsome gigolo who seduces rich, married women for his triad Boss in order to blackmail them. The triad's modus operandi usually involves Zhongliang paying a visit to the woman in her room (a secret rendezvous) whereupon he would usually send a clear signal to his cohorts by opening the curtains of the room's window. His partners in crime would then storm the room and stage a semi-mock stickup, capturing the illicit couple unawares by placing a black mask over their faces, similar to those worn by condemned criminals at the hangman's noose (Zhongliang would obviously be unharmed in the process). The victim would then be threatened with exposure of the licentious affair or alternatively pay a hefty sum to keep the matter under wraps, with the victim being made to believe that Zhongliang has been swiftly 'murdered' by the thugs. In this aspect, Zhongliang succeeded beyond his triad's wildest dreams, and his boss, Biggie (Xie Tian) dotes on him like his own son.

By orders of his boss, Zhongliang returns to the Pang estate to seduce Mr. Pang's daughter Pang Ruyi (Gong Li), the new head of the household, and afterwards blackmail her. Ruyi by this point has also become an opium addict, a legacy of the Pang family, who could not resist the addiction. However, the hatred he once had for the Pang family and his loyalty to the triad starts to wane as the two fall in love with each other. Throughout his liaison with Ruyi, however, he never openly declares his affections for her as he remains haunted by his past and swears to never love again. Instead, he uses an aloofness and his icy demeanor to quell Ruyi's longing for him. His sister, although still regarded as one of the seniors of the Pang clan, is not as respected as before and she consistently reminds Zhongliang that Ruyi would not be a good choice for him as Ruyi is helplessly addicted to opium.

Ruyi's ascension[edit]

Meanwhile, Ruyi's rise to power in the Pang family is not without controversy. Because her brother has been rendered an imbecile by Zhongliang's poison, she is the only competent child of her father. As a result, she is the natural heir to the family. The family elders, however, still traditional in their outlook refuse to let a woman control the fate of the family. As a result, they bring in a distant male cousin Duanwu (Kevin Lin), whom they hope can be their "tool" to control Ruyi.

Unfortunately, Duanwu quickly falls in love with Ruyi and allows her more-or-less free rein. Ruyi uses her power to expel her father's concubines, infuriating the elders who beat Duanwu for his apparent impotence. It is into this intra-family drama that Zhongliang soon finds himself fully entangled. Ruyi, having fallen in love with Zhongliang, seduces Duanwu in order to "practice" for Zhongliang; this then leads Zhongliang to proceed the plan to seduce her. Zhongliang upon learning that he is slowly falling in love with Ruyi, is horrified and quickly returns to Shanghai.

Return to Shanghai[edit]

Back in Shanghai, Biggie, sensing that Zhongliang is wavering in his duties, and is no longer suitable to carry out his assignments, invites Ruyi to Shanghai and show her Zhongliang's real job during one of the triad's regular heists. This particular heist involves the Woman of Zephyr Lane (Zhou Jie), to whom Zhongliang had developed an emotional attachment prior to his return to the Pang estate. Ruyi is accompanied by Duanwu who, in his traditional clothing finds himself out of place in the modern city. Although she is shocked that Zhongliang is involved in blackmail, she is still very much in love with him and even dresses up in contemporary Shanghai clothing to impress him. Zhongliang, however, rejects her, leaving Ruyi heartbroken. Duanwu, meanwhile, has become seduced by the modernity of Shanghai, and heady with desire rapes Ruyi.

A reversal of roles[edit]

Ruyi thereupon returns to the Pang estate, but things have changed. First, Ruyi learns that her childhood betrothal, Jingwu (David Wu) has returned. Jingwu informs Ruyi that their initial betrothal had been ended by his family due to Ruyi's opium addiction, but that he had returned on his own. Zhongliang, too, returns and upon learning of Jingwu's return desperately tries to win Ruyi back. Blinded by jealousy and anger, Zhongliang poisons Ruyi (in the same manner that he had poisoned his abusive brother-in-law). Shortly afterwards, he is gunned down by his own gang while trying to sail away in a port. Duanwu, who is no longer the passive cousin he was earlier in the film is proclaimed as the new head of the Pang clan in an elaborate ancestral ceremony. Ruyi, meanwhile, is shown tied to a chair, her mind permanently destroyed as a result of the opium poisoning. In the final scene, we see all three main characters, Zhongliang, Duanwu, and Ruyi as children; they look into the camera knowingly.


Despite its smaller scale story, Temptress Moon proved far more difficult a production than its predecessor, Chen's Farewell My Concubine. Although filming began in 1994, Moon did not wrap until more than a year later in 1995; the film's budget in the intervening time having ballooned to over $7 million (US), over twice as much as Concubine.[4] Other problems arose as well, notably the firing of the original Ruyi, the Taiwanese actress Wang Ching-ying, about halfway through the shoot. The resulting delay lasted five months before filming resumed with Gong Li in the lead role.[4]


Unlike the near universal praise for Concubine, Temptress Moon's reception abroad was considerably more muted. Critics praised the sumptuous visuals by Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle, but also cited the confusing plot.[5][6] Roger Ebert, in a typical review, noted "Temptress Moon is a hard movie to follow--so hard, that at some point you may be tempted to abandon the effort and simply enjoy the elegant visuals..."[7] The New York Times also praised the film's sumptuous production values, but critic Stephen Holden also found the film to lack emotional weight, arguing that Temptress Moon ultimately "has the feel of a chic, kink-ornamented romantic pageant, unfolding at a distance."[8]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Home media release[edit]

Temptress Moon was released on Region 1 DVD in the United States and Canada on July 2, 2002 by Miramax Films through Buena Vista Home Video label. The DVD featured subtitles in English.


  1. ^ Ye Zhaoyan (2002) [1996]. Nanjing 1937: A Love Story. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-12754-5. 
  2. ^ (in Chinese) 陈凯歌拍电影《风月》伤了好友叶兆言
  3. ^ Tung, Lily (2001). "Waiting For the Ice to Melt". AsiaWeek. Retrieved 2007-04-17. 
  4. ^ a b Elley, Derek (1996-05-15). "Temptress Moon". Variety. Retrieved 2007-12-30. 
  5. ^ Guthmann, Edward (1997-06-20). "Cloudy Plot Blocks 'Temptress Moon'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-04-17. 
  6. ^ Berardinelli, James (1997). "Temptress Moon". Reel Reviews. Retrieved 2007-04-17. 
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (1997-06-27). "Temptress Moon". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 2007-04-17. 
  8. ^ Holden, Stephen (1996-10-05). "A 'Gone With the Wind' In China, Without War". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-24. 
  9. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Temptress Moon". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-09-16. 

External links[edit]