Thursday, October 10, 2013

In short: Les nuits rouges du bourreau de jade (2009)

aka Red Nights

The paths of various characters - a Chinese model/perfume designer/bondage and torture loving serial killer (Carrie Ng), a French professional mistress who has just poisoned her lover (Frédérique Bel), and others - cross in Hong Kong in various attempts of buying or to selling or to double-crossing each other when buying or selling vial containing the poison of the executioner of the first Chinese Emperor. Said poison is supposed to provide not just death but also enhanced sensations during it, so it is just the thing certain people would kill for, even if there weren't a lot of money involved.

Julien Carbon's and Laurent Courtiad's movie is yet another attempt to create an intensified version of giallo aesthetics, in this particular case paired with the more strictly composed aesthetics of certain parts of 80s arthouse cinema, as well as Hong Kong cinema of the early 90s. Even better, it's a rather successful attempt, at least if you have the stomach for a film very much in love with turning the idea(l) of slow torturous deaths into something only hardly discernible from sex in some highly stylized and fetishist torture/murder scenes, and if you aren't turned off by a film whose plot is really beside the point when compared to its mood and the way its visuals are providing all the thematic resonance it needs or wants.

Carbon and Courtiaud have worked in Hong Kong's film industry for a bit, and so seemed to have acquired the appropriate contacts to shoot their film in the city. However, the film's Hong Kong isn't meant as a portrait of the real place but as the kind of idealized/stylized fantasy of it where French and Chinese criminals mingle under neon lights, and where all kinds of lusts and desires come to the surface in all imaginable degrees of decadence. One could accuse Les Nuits of Orientalism, if this view of Hong Kong wouldn't run through so much of Hong Kong's own cinema as well; in more than one CATIII film to a much larger and definitely sleazier degree.

The Hong Kong connection also provides Les Nuits with its special weapon in form of Carrie Ng, who does her typical "frightening sadistic female serial killer" role again, yet seems to go about it with particular relish here. Perhaps because her character really is the not so secret hero of the piece, perhaps because she is mostly (with an exception right at the film's end) coming up against women acted just as intensely yet not quite as predatory as her character is in nature, instead of the often rather light-weight men more than one of her Hong Kong films tended to pair her up with.

Les Nuits' attraction is at times seductive, at times of the type that makes one flinch while one still won't look away, and at times based on aesthetic convictions that can border on kitsch. Like a small and precious number of films made in the last few years, Les Nuits is trying very hard to reconnect with an idea of filmmaking as an art that is based on very aestheticized transgression, and of mood and style as substance. For my tastes, it succeeds quite admirably at it.

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