DIRECTOR: ZHANG YIMOU, YANG PENGLIANG
COUNTRY: CHINA 1990
CAST: GONG LI, LI BAOTIAN, LI WEI
SUPER FEATURES: Good film. Tragic story.
I suppose that China is only at this day in time, been able to finally discuss some of the problems which they have had for several centuries, and the forms which are readier than most to show it, happen to be that of the motion pictures. And one of the first themes which I have
seen, have dealt mostly with the advent of women as second class citizens, servants to the male superior, to whom she is basically a slave, a
a mistress who has to bear a boy, or they are dumped, or killed.
Zhang Yimou's first film (to my knowledge) is about a young lady that gets bought out by a new master. But he is rough, and unkind, and the new mistress ends up receiving some solace in the friendship of one of the son's in the clan. But this fateful union proves to be terribly destructive. The affair produces a boy, who is brought up along, until one day, the couple's affair is finally coming to a head. The master of the house has become disabled, and now is at the mercy of the mistress and her boyfriend. However, as the child grows, he befriends the old man, though he accidentally kills him. And the old man has convinced the youngster that he is the father, not the lover. The young man grows angrier as time goes by, and in the end kills the lover. At that point the mother sets the silk (fabric dyeing) factory on fire and puts an end to the whole tragic affair, from the tainted marriage to the tragic love affair.
It is interesting to notice that very much like the film which Zhang Yimou would eventually do (RAISE THE RED LANTERN), the focus is strictly on the event of the woman's involvement with her lover, which, has no choice but to fall into a tragedy since they are the ones violating the norm. And it is convenient to notice that by concentrating on the character's individual desires, the film pretty much absolves the social
atmosphere from its culpability in creating a system where women are expendable depending on the desires of the master of the house. I suppose, that by doing this, the government can blame the state of affairs on a system long gone, which was corrupt, and which Mao Tse Tung tried to end. And the film can find funds, and avoid criticism.
In a more subtle manner, the film also decries the lack of modernization, not only in the actual factory, but also in the way of thinking. In the beginning a buyer asks the master why he does not upgrade his factory and modernize it, and the owner dismisses it as not wishing to have too many people in there. In other words rugged individuality is the main reason why such a large country has to be ruled with an iron fist...only to pay for it later.
The very attractive Gong Li, plays the role of Judou, and is actually very good, though it appears that here she has the capacity of really becoming very emotional, in contrast to her role in LANTERN, which is so subdued. The difference might just be that in JuDou, the characters are commoners, where in LANTERN they are upper class.
The film is nice, though very sad and tragic. And it is well filmed, though the symbolic edges during the film tend to appear a bit old for us, who have seen so many films, but very effective for a society that has not seen that many films. And the turn of events is actually very unexpected, which is really the product of a well told story, something which Zhang Yimou has definitely displayed in his work.
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