"The Lover" is a French film, though it seems more Asian than French. It received one of the few early "NC-17" ratings, and for good reason. The sex is hot and heavy in this tale designed to ring all the right bells and press all the proper buttons.
It is French Colonial Vietnam in 1929. A young French girl (who is never named), played by Jane March, returns to boarding school. Because her family has some financial difficulties, she travels alone on public transportation.
While doing so, she catches the eye of a wealthy Chinese businessman (Tony Leung Ka-fai). He (the credits rather colorfully identify him only as "The Chinaman") offers her (why almost everyone is unnamed in "The Lover" is a bit of a mystery) the chance to get off the muddy roads and ride into town in the back of his chauffeured sedan.
Incidentally, let's be clear that there are several actors named "Tony Leung," and this may or may not be the one you know. This Tony Leung is a four-time winner of the Hong Kong Film Award. He does a brilliant job here.
Anyway, the girl accepts the invitation, and sparks fly. A torrid affair ensues. However, there are complications, such as class restrictions and the social mores of the time.
This is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Marguerite Duras. Whether or not it is completely true, or a collection of truth and wistful thinking, is irrelevant. "The Lover" is a gorgeous film that is chock full of sex, a standard '80s-'90s erotic smorgasboard. As such, it is not suitable for younger viewers. But, if you like that sort of thing... well, here it is.
The sex scenes are graphic, and verge on erotica. However, they are tasteful, and in a higher league than standard, low-grade adult films. The film is more about emotions and how they play out than it is about the physical act of love - though that is played out as well, big time.
This is a coming-of-age story, but it is about sexual awakening. The girl is extremely precocious and ripe for experimentation. She does things that she might regret later, but she is a willing partner now. She also appears to be playing out a fantasy of being with a wealthy older man.
On his side, he is attracted to her innocence, youth and beauty. It is an age-old trade-off that works for many, at least temporarily.
Aside from all that, the film is gorgeous. The settings are fabulous, particular the river and ferry scenes. You will be entranced by the natural beauty of the countryside long before you get to any sex.