The Story of Sue San ★★★★

King Hu's directorial debut. He'd been acting and working a variety of other movie jobs (props, writing, etc) since the mid-1950s, it's for the most part in the vein of his two films as assistant director under Li Han-hsiang, The Enchanting Shadow and The Love Eterne. Like those films, it's an adaptation from medieval literature, in this case of a story from the Ming Dynasty collection Stories to Caution the World, published in 1624. Betty Loh Ti, the star of those other two films, also stars here as the eponymous prostitute. A rich guy (Lei Zhao, who starred with Loh in a number of films through the 60s, including The Enchanting Shadow) meets her and falls obsessively in love, leading to his downfall and ruin.

But rather than follow this Blue Angel template, it turns out the girl actually does like the guy. And as he is able to rehabilitate himself, his fortune and his standing in society, she merely falls ever further into degradation, first as a prostitute, then forced into concubinage, finally into prison, framed for murder.

It's in the final scenes, when Loh recites her misfortunes in song (literally telling "the story of Sue San" where the film we'd been watching had been telling us the man's story as much if not more than her's) that everything really comes together. It's not as musical as the other huangmei films I've seen, with only a few songs here or there. But when Betty Loh Ti takes control of the narrative and sings us her story, the generic melodrama becomes something a little special.

Oh, and as Matt points out, letterboxd has totally the wrong poster for this.

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