China's Cultural Revolution would have been a terrible time to be a child — but just imagine growing up during the Cultural Revolution and remembering your past life in Imperial China. That's the premise of The Reincarnation of Golden Lotus.
Also known as Pan Jin Lian Zhi Qian Shi Jin Sheng, 1989's Reincarnation is one of my favorite Hong Kong movies of all time — and not surprisingly, it was banned in mainland China. Just check out the uncompromising portrayal of the Cultural Revolution in the above clip.
The little girl in the clip is being obedient and taking part in the festive dances, where she and other girls dance around with machine guns — but she keeps remembering being a little girl in ancient China. When she fixes her ballet shoes, with their ribbons, she remembers her bound feet. She sings an ancient song — which is forbidden — and then she spies a copy of the classic novel The Golden Lotus being burned on a bonfire along with other works of classical literature. Sensing that this novel holds the secrets to her past, she sneaks forward to grab it — only to have a man plummet to his death in front of her. (Sorry about the lack of subtitles!)
Why is Shan, the young girl, having these weird visions of life in the 10th Century Song Dynasty? It's because in her previous life, she was Golden Lotus, a woman who committed adultery with a charming rogue and conspired to murder her ugly husband. She was betrayed and beheaded — and after she died, she was told to drink a special cup of tea which would erase her memories of her past life so she could be reborn afresh. Here's the scene where she almost drinks the memory-erasing tea, but then she remembers being beheaded, and throws the teacup away instead:
Reincarnation of Golden Lotus is the work of director Clara Law Cheuk Yu, one of Hong Kong's few female directors, and you can definitely see the added emphasis on Shan's subjectivity, even amidst all the insanity and lurid sex and violence.
Without giving away the entire plot, it transpires that Golden Lotus' decision to keep her memories of her previous life was a terrible mistake. Because she remembers her past life, she's doomed to repeat it. She's a prisoner of her past-life memories, and she winds up seeking out people who are similar to the husband she betrayed and the sleazy lover who betrayed her. (In fact, these men may actually be the reincarnations of the men from her past life.) She has more and more flashbacks to her previous existence, and they prevent her from living her own life. She wants revenge for her death a thousand years ago, but all she gets instead is more misery.
Here's a great scene, where she's having tawdry, drug-addled sex with her new sleazy lover, while in her mind it's a thousand years ago and she's having slightly more romantic dalliance with a similar man. Clip is slightly raunchy, but probably work safe:
Reincarnation of Golden Lotus is hard to find nowadays, but well worth tracking down a copy of.