"Beauty Remains"(aka, "Mei ren yi jiu")
Set in 1948 China (Qingdao), against the backdrop of Communism's rise, two sisters Fei (Zhou Xun) and Ying (Vivian Wu) who were separated because of one's illegitimate birth become bound together by the death of their father and the inheritance conditions of his will.
Fei has been living in relative poverty with her school tuition secretly being funded by the father who shamefully set her out of his palatial mansion. Ying, on the other hand, has been raised in opulent leisure with a staff of servants and the grandeur of wealth. Now, in order to inherit her share of the wealth, she must return Fei to the household as an equal.
She is somewhat scheming but emotionally attached to her half sister, as well. Her grand plan is to take the liquidated assets of the estate and take off with her handsome, amiable boyfriend Mr. Huang (Wang Zhi Wen), a local casino owner cum boxing promoter, to parts unknown. But, this too, is a shaky proposition. Huang, for all his charisma and ladykiller ways, is unpredictable. Yearlong plans for him and Ying to marry have been on again, off again, in the framework of a tumultuous relationship.
When Fei casts her eyes on the reformed womanizer (?) as a conquest and as a shot at her sister's superior ways (intellectual accomplishment isn't enough), all bets on a happy outcome are off and steamy consummations are in.
This is steamy triangle romance with the bedroom satisfactions of a Harlequin novel. It's greatest appeal will be to sentiment-bent ladies looking for soulful escape and risque fantasy. Awkward directorial transitions (by Ann Hu) clamp the high acting skills of this cast into a straight jacket, though I thought the evolution of Zhou Xun from plain, colorless grade school student to seductive glamour queen quite appealing and the main reason for most of us to catch the film.
Wang Zhi Wen is another one to watch. His saucy polarity between opportunist and sensitive sentimentalist capable of understanding larger issues is surprising and the magnetic stuff of movie stardom. This actor's commanding screen presence should bring him considerable attention on the world stage, and not just in such feminine-oriented contexts.