Academic journal article Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese

A Ghost Tour in Rouge

Academic journal article Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese

A Ghost Tour in Rouge

Article excerpt



The relentless development of a city "kills" its past, and "buries" its dark side; yet its past can never be entirely "exorcised." There are many ghost tours/walks in modern cities leading contemporary citizens to approach their repressed histories. (1) Such ghost tours/walks have not yet appeared in Hong Kong. If there were one in Hong Kong, it should take heed of Abbas' advice, "using disappearance to deal with disappearance." (2) The cultural tour guide leading us through the repressed past could only be the specter (a disappeared figure) who is the sole witness to the "disappeared" past. (3) We might consider Fleur [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Yu Fa), the prostitute in Stanley Kwan's film, Rouge [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1988) as one such figure. (4) We can read the film as the tragic love story between Fleur, who narrates the story, and Twelfth Master [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Sap Yi Siu). They loved each other, but his family did not allow them to marry. In 1934 Fleur appears in the Flower House [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a brothel in the Western District (one of the oldest districts in Hong Kong) and begs him to die with her so that their love might continue in the afterlife. She finds herself waiting in the underworld for fifty years in vain but returns to the world in 1984 to ask Yuen Wing Ding (who works for a newspaper as an assistant advertising officer) to post a missing persons advertisement for Twelfth Master. In the advertisement, she tells him that she will meet him at the Flower House on the 8th of March and gives the time of 11pm, the hour in which they committed suicide. Sadly, the Flower House has been demolished, leaving no trace behind. While she needs him to guide her to the contemporary site of the brothel, he (a modern figure) needs her (the disappeared) to guide him to the disappeared place in order to help her locate her lost love. Their Western Districts are different. Fleur cannot connect the present Western District with what she has been familiar with; in the process of looking for Twelfth Master, Yuen has lost the site of the brothel, and has thereby become disconnected from the past. The times and persons of the story are "out of joint," if we follow Derrida's discussion of Hamlet. (5)

This paper discusses how Fleur's association to some of the worldwide ghost tours insinuates the haunting quality of the past, time, and the cityscape; in other words, it discusses how the tragic love story between Fleur and Twelfth Master can also be allegorically read as a tragic cultural story of Hong Kong. This discussion allegorically reads Fleur, Twelfth Master and Yuen as figures hauled by modernity. (6)

1. Ghost Tour in a Ghostly City

At the end of the film, Fleur finds the aged Twelfth Master who has been living like a zombie. She, who died in order to live, realizes that he has betrayed and deserted her in order to survive. Fleur, in 1984, realizes that she has presumed upon the endurance of the brothel; she had hoped too that her lover would remain as young as her, and his love unchanged. She had hoped that everything could be frozen fifty years. She had been burdened with ghostly memory, and, therefore, refused to drink the "five-flavored tea of forgetfulness" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) whose function was to erase her memory of the past life for future reincarnation. Fleur, these fifty years, has been in mourning, mourning for the loss of her lover in the underworld. Yet if mourning is traditionally the possession of the living, how do we understand the significance of ghostly mourning? Fleur's fate suggests that the past is destined to be victim to the relentless processes of modernity; the past has no right to linger; she has been hastily disposed so that modern Hong Kong can continue to progress at full speed.

When Fleur makes her first return to the world in 1984, we are informed that she cannot match the speed of a moving tram. …

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