Viva Erotica (1996)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2006-04-18
Just about any art form uses itself as a subject and movies are no exception. Movies about movies have been around for a long time—a subdivision of this genre is the movie that is structured around and given shape by telling the story of a specific film being made. Truffaut’s “Day for Night” is a classic example as is the independent “Living in Oblivion”, by Tom DiCillo; less successful was Woody Allen’s “Hollywood Ending”. “Centre Stage” a touchstone of modern Hong Kong filmmaking is the story not only of Yuen Ling Yuk but also a faux-documentary on the making of “Centre Stage” which is itself bounded by the “real” movie.

So “Viva Erotica” wasn’t breaking any new ground although it does a good job in presenting the dilemma of a talented but unsuccessful director who has to chose between making Triad backed pornography or not working in film at all. It touches briefly on themes of artistic integrity, the redeeming power of love and the necessity for the true artist to constantly strive for perfection even in an imperfect world. It also has a lot of scenes of Shu Qi naked, nearly naked or topless often while having simulated sex on camera.

Both Shu Qi as the insanely luscious Miss Mango and Leslie Cheung as Sing, the beleaguered film director, are perfectly cast. The struggling artist, yearning to express himself in the face of a hostile or indifferent world is a role that Leslie Cheung often played to perfection. As Ms. Mango, Shu Qi’s bad girl flippancy is only slightly muted by her desire for a normal life and her smoldering sexuality is never far from the surface.

Sing is lucky enough to be surrounded by a very skilled crew who are willing to do anything for him, actors who respond perfectly to his ideas on how to approach their parts and, most importantly, the noblest producer who has ever been involved in a film. The crew refuses to work when Sing is temporarily canned; both Ms. Mango and Elvis Tsui’s character (billed only as “Bald Porn Actor”) are transformed by Sing’s off the cuff discussion of using sense and emotional memory to create the acting space they need and when Sing approaches Paul Chun’s Triad Film Producer to fire producer Ah Chung (delightfully underplayed by Law Kar-Ying) he finds that Ah has already accepted all the blame the difficulties in the shoot.

Both the Triad Film Producer and May, Sing’s girlfriend played by Karen Mok, present problems that need to be solved—they are the characters who drive the action when “Viva Erotica” pulls back from the set of the porn film they are making. Sing can’t control either of them—the TFP because he has all the money in the project and he is a tough guy, May because she is beautiful, intelligent and (seemingly) not willing to take second place to this half-baked movie. Paul Chun is properly oily, uncouth and domineering—his character is easy to have enough of and we aren’t sorry to see him go. May decides that what she ultimately loves in Sing is that he makes films—he has a artistic vision and is willing to sacrifice a lot (although not May) for it.

The basis for the last shot in “Viva Erotica”, in which the entire crew goes about their tasks while naked in order to spare the actors and actresses the embarrassment of being the only people on the set without clothing, was used five years later in the Yvan Attal’s film “My Wife is an Actress”. In the later movie Charlotte Gainsbourgh, hesitant to do a nude scene, walks onto the set in her robe to find everyone there already naked. Not sure where else this particular bit of business shows up but it is funny and effective.
Reviewer Score: 6