The Twilight of the Forbidden City (1992)
Reviewed by: STSH on 2005-11-20
Summary: Shocking and cruel
.... in the true sense. This was one of the first HK films I saw on television. Dealing as it does with the life story of a court eunuch, it presents a mixture of glamour and horror. The cinematography and the look of this movie is gorgeous. The costumes alone are a feast for the eye.

The glamour also serves to increase the shock and horror. For example, a girl is singing for the elder court eunuch. The song she sings is not suitable and has clearly offended the eunuch. But he gives her ten dollars then, without changing his rather cool expression, shoots her dead.

The images become more disturbing as the story progresses. For example, one of the cruelest sights I have ever seen in HK cinema is where the same elder eunuch holds open the mouth of a prisoner, plunging into the open mouth a hot rock. Another scene shows the younger eunuch being raped by a fat general, and Max Mok's anguished expression, of one who has been put upon all his life, says it all.

I find this film difficult to watch, even though I have seen it two or three times. The acting is top-notch but the cruelty I can bear only with clenched teeth. You have been warned.

Previously published:
Sprawling and expensive historical star vehicle for Max Mok, with a huge supporting cast . Loi Hei, a eunuch and former court official, has become a hawker of plum soup. He cares for a pretty young woman and her young son in a man-and-wife relationship (including one very short sex scene !). Life is pleasant, but two events change that. The woman's husband (in Canton) sends for her, and Loi is unwittingly drawn into league with a small cadre of patriots, fighting the Japanese and their intended Manchu puppets in early the 1930s. Young woman doesn't want to leave, but Loi tricks her into going, and screams in agony after she leaves. Loi is then convinced by a high class prostitute (Carrie Ng) and her frustrated lover and richshaw driver (Roman Tam) to accept the offer of a palace eunuch to get his old job back. Thus, he'd have access to the royal Jade Seal and stop it falling into Japanese hands, and therefore legitimize their power. Carrie's character develops an almost immediate affection for Loi, creating lasting friction between him and Roman's character. Despite the strong supporting cast, glorious and colourful photography, and Loi Hei's essentially weak character, Mok is allowed to dominate almost every scene, is given every opportunity to show his full dramatic range, mostly with success. The white-faced chief eunuch (actor's name unknown), a big fan of opera, is cold and vile. He is ruthless and easily offended (e.g. when a prostitute sings an opera tune with anti-royalist lyrics, he first gives her madam a ten dollar tip, then shoots the girl), yet he protects Loi Hei, even when Loi causes him to massively lose face. Villains and vile characters abound in this movie. Kent Cheng as the fat, bi-sexual general, is particularly slimy. There are numerous scenes of extreme cruelty. Several rapes (including one sodomy), a soldier's hand is cut off because his nails are not clean, soldiers are used as targets to test the accuracy of new cannons. Carrie's character probably suffers the most. She's shot at, knifed, the chief eunuch shoves a hot rock shoved in her mouth (a ghastly scene I will NEVER forget), is thrown into a rat-infested dungeon, and finally (and unwittingly) poisoned by Loi and dies an agonised and screaming death. Overall, though this is an extremely well made and colourful film, it is overwhelmingly grim and very, very depressing (which means it's probably a true war story).
Reviewer Score: 6