Monday, February 26, 2007

Review of Ju Dou

Watching Ju Dou after reading Rey Chow’s theories about Zhang Yimou’s films, I feel as if I can see where her arguments and the negative critiques of other critics come from. The gender politics are not very progressive, the cinematography is a bit fetishistic especially with regard to color and the smooth tragic arc has a vaguely superficial quality. Despite this, I can’t help but think the film comes together effectively and entertainingly.

The story is simple: Tian-qing, an orphan working for Jin-shan, a cruel silk dyer, falls in love with his master’s beautiful wife, Ju Dou. They have a child, Tian-bai, but can’t acknowledge it as their own due to the traditions of the time even after Jin-shan is paralyzed and then dies. Tragedy ensues.

The performances are excellent. Tian-qing teeters between cowardice and kindness and I’m never quite sure whether his inability to kill Jin-shan makes his character more or less sympathetic. Does it say something about me that I cheer for him to bloody his hands? Gong Li is well-suited as Ju Dou and her characterization of a woman hungry for lasting happiness and burned when it remaining ever outside her grasp is too complicated to be swept under the “female object to-be-looked-at” carpet without further thought. Tian-bai, while hardly developed conventionally due to sparse dialogue and little screen time, serves as a creepy symbol of karmic revenge. His jerky, succinct movements give him an almost inhuman menace without resorting to evil laughs or brooding music over slow zooms.

As with just about every Yimou film, the cinematography is excellent. I think that even if you feel he panders to Western sensibilities (which I find skeptical and which Yimou dismisses handily in interviews) or wallows in hallow superficialities, one must acknowledge that his visual flair succeeds in capturing the attention and sustaining the seductive tone. Even while one part of my mind acknowledges the syrupy waterfall of crimson silk that pours down during two scenes (a passionate sex scene and a harsh death) as cheesy, I also can’t help but find it to be, respectively, sexy and unsettling. If a reviewer can’t enjoy Yimou’s cinematography then I can’t imagine they ever enjoy movies at all.

Walrus Rating: 8

1 comment:

Mad Dog said...

Yeah, I'm not sure I've seen one of those types of films from China that doesn't give a sloppy blowjob to cinematography or saturated colors.

I'm not sure that's a complaint, though. And I'll never look at silk sheets the same way again after Revolutionary Girl Utena.