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If money can't buy happiness, can it at least buy control over others? Xiang is hard-working, running a small sesame oil business. Her husband is lazy and drinks; her son is blood simple. When Japanese investors provide capital to expand Xiang's business, she has the wealth to raise her social standing and buy a wife for her son, Dunzi. When money and a forceful personality fail to bend others to her will, including daughter-in-law Huanhuan, Xiang must find another way to tranquillity. Written by
This movie explores the moral dilemmas of a woman who has beaten the system on its own terms. Madame Xiang was sold at the age of 7 to the drunken lout who is now her husband of 20 years. She says she cried when she was a child, but long ago she became a stolid seeker of opportunities, with a secret lover and a successful business. Now her life comes full circle as, playing the solid patriarch that her husband could never be, she buys her retarded son a lovely young bride. Instead of preaching, Xie Fei builds powerful dramatic episodes that make the viewer feel equally strong sympathy for Madame Xiang and horror at what she is doing. The film's last moment, when she can no longer close her eyes to the horror, is very powerful. The cinematography is especially effective: the lake of the title is filmed with a lyrical beauty that serves primarily to provide an ironic contrast with the unfolding events but also underpins the characters' sense that beauty and dignity in life are somehow possible, somehow their right.
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