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Film / Forbidden Nights

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"His freedom was worth fighting for. Was her love worth dying for?"

Forbidden Nights is a 1990 American made-for-television drama film directed by Waris Hussein and based on the article The Rocky Course of Love in China written by Judith Shapiro. The film was shot in Hong Kong and stars Melissa Gilbert, Robin Shou and Victor K. Wong. The film also marked the American debut of Shou, who wouldn't act in another American film until Mortal Kombat in 1995.

Set in Red China in 1979, the film focuses on Judith Shapiro (Melissa Gilbert), an American teacher who falls in love with Liang Heng (Robin Shou), a Chinese radical, trying to bring political reform to his homeland. She puts all her wishes and dreams away to fit into his ideals, but soon, trouble starts to come.

The TV Film had VHS copies released to the public, but no other medium releases. However, the Full Movie is up on Youtube to watch.


Forbidden Nights includes examples of the following tropes:

  • All the Other Reindeer: Liang was made a social pariah starting from when he was four. When his mother spoke against the Leaders mistreatment of the servants, his family name was badly damaged to where he struggled to survive during the 10 years of darkness. In order to get into the University, he had to bribe someone to get him in as he would have no chance of getting admission the normal way.
  • Fish out of Water: When Judith arrives in China, the culture shock strikes her so hard she tries to flee back to America. Mai Ling stops her because Judith is playing into the Director's hands. What she is doing is what the Director is hoping for as he wishes to advance the fear narrative that foreigners can't be trusted. Examples are listed:
    • Judith needs to wear clothes that won't show a bare neck. She learns about this when Mai Ling alerts her in buttoning up her shirt before they arrive to the University.
    • When she arrives at the University, she is brought forth to the auditorium to introduce herself without having time to prepare her speech.
    • There are no Restaurants late at night for her to go eat at.
    • Advertisement:
    • She wakes up alarmed to hearing an exercise routine going on outside her apartment.
    • The morning breakfast is so repulsive, she pushes it away.
    • When she returns to her apartment, the maid is looking for her laundry to wash. Judith asks for a lock for her door when the maid tells her that a lock is only for those who wish to hide something.
    • The phones don't work when she tries to call someone to complain.
    • She has to boil dirty water to be able to take a bath.
  • Flashback: The story Judith tells is her reflecting on her time in 1979 China while she is with Liang in 1989 New York City.
  • Hands Go Down: Inverted. Judith asks about who would like to go first in talking in class: everyone keeps their hands down. She then asks if the class read the book she told them to read: everyone raises their hands.
  • Lifetime Movie of the Week: It's a Movie made for TV film. But this one is about Interracial relationships being challenged by traditional norms set in 1979 China.
  • The Mole: Mai Ling. She was sent to spy on Judith and report everything back to the Director in hopes of getting on his good side. The reason? She has a bad political standing, but she is in love with Director's son. She hopes that she'll finally be allowed to be with him if she makes the Director happy enough to accept her.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: Political Versions. Liang's parents got caught in this.
    • When Liang's mother's criticism is given to the Government, her family is made into outcasts and she ends up sent to an Reeducation Camp. To protect his children from suffering the same fate, Liang's father got a political divorce from Liang's mother.
    • When Liang's father quoted Shakespeare in the Newspaper he worked for, he was condemned as a traitor to his country and couldn't get work anywhere after. It got so bad that when Liang's father suffered from a stroke, he couldn't get medical treatment due to his bad political standing.
  • Onscreen Chapter Titles: The film is divided into chapters with each scene having a title.
  • Persecuted Intellectuals: Liang is a social pariah due to his bad political standing. Because of this, he is feared, mistrusted, and persecuted because of the Chinese Government's despise of Literates.
  • Persona Non Grata: Liang gets kicked out Judith's class because of his family's bad political standing. Though it was the University and not Judith who kicked him out. He lampshades this to warn Judith that as much as he wants to know her, she may get into trouble with the University if anyone catches them together.
  • Reality Has no Subtitles: There are seens in the movie where Chinese is either spoken or read, but no subtitles are to be found in those scenes.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: The night on Judith's birthday, Liang and her head back to her place after the birthday party. Cue the birthday sex... in PG-13 form.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Judith does this after seeing the dirty water needed to take a bath. Mai Ling stops her out of fear that she'll never be able to see the Director's son if Judith leaves China for good.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Zigzagged. Liang was a student in Judith's classroom when they first met. Because of his bad political standing, he ends up getting kicked out of her class. It doesn't stop him from pursuing a relationship with her.