Rouge, a 1987 movie by Stanley Kwan starring Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung, is set in Hong Kong in two decades: the 1930s and 1980s. Mui plays Fleur, the most popular courtesan in a brothel frequented by Cheung''s Master Twelve, son of a wealthy business owner. In 1934, because of the society''s rigid hierarchical system that disables them to marry, Master Twelve and Fleur commit suicide.
Fast forward to 1987, there lives a journalist couple Yuen (Alex Man) and Cho (Emily Chu). Their brush with the netherworld begins when the ghost of Fleur asks them to help her find the ghost of Master Twelve. Thus they start to trace Master Twelve, with a shocking discovery awaiting...ok, I''ll leave it at that.
THE ALLUSIONS TO THE HANDOVER
There are many allusions to the 1997 Handover in this movie that reflect Hong Kong''s people fear of the future under China. China pitted against Hong Kong can be recognized, for instance, in the choice of costumes for the 1987 scenes. Fleur dressed in Cheong Sam amidst Western clothes-clad people does not only signify her role as a ghost from the past, but also symbolizes China''s backwardness. The backwardness symbol is strengthened in the scene where Fleur, waiting for the ghost of her lover by the building that was once her brothel, gets mocked by passers-by because of her Cheong Sam.
Then there are the social references to The Handover, one of which is one of the earliest scenes. This is where Fleur names her favorite Cantonese operas and Yuen tells her he has never heard of them. In this case, Yuen represents the Hong Kong''s heavy Western way of life and Fleur is symbolic of China''s binding traditions.
Despite the numerous allusions to Hong Kong''s negative perspective of China, there is a ray of hope, as shown in the following scene. When Fleur goes to a fortune teller about her chances of finding Master Twelve, he tells her that yes he is in Hong Kong, and that the word on her chosen card means ''dark'' but it breaks down two ''radical suns'', meaning good fortune.
Did you know that both Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui died in 2003? Cheung died first in April after having committed suicide at The Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Mui died in December after years of battling with cervical cancer. The deaths of the main stars thus strengthen the ghostly air of the movie.