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The beautiful but mostly in this film unglamorous Gong Li plays the title character, a young woman forced into marriage with a much older silk dyer. She cannot conceive and gets abused for it. Her husband's nephew Tianqing admires her and, inevitably, they carry on an affair. She does conceive and gives birth to a son, her husband thinking its his. The old man ends up getting crippled in an accident, and Ju-Dou and Tianqing carry on their affair, almost gleefully under the husband's nose. All of this happens before the film is half finished. There are no heroes in this film, which is set in China in the 1920's. Its actually a tough film to watch because of it, since no one here is very likable. The theme that revenge is not all its cracked up to be really manifests itself as you go along, so the film is even a bit frustrating. The film was nominated for Best Foreign Film, but I didn't love it enough to applaud that nomination. Its good, and the acting is fine, but its a brutal film. Know that going in and its definitely watchable.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a very brief review of "Red Sorghum" (1987), "Ju Dou" (1990),
"Raise the Red Lantern" (1991), "The Story of Qiu Ju" (1992) and "To
Live" (1994), five films by Zhang Yimou. Each film stars actress Gong
Li, each works as a companion-piece to the other, and each deals almost
exclusively with the oppression of women within early 20th century
Zhang's debut, "Red Sorghum" stars Gong Li as Young Nine, a peasant who is sold to a wealthy leper. Things only get worse for Nine, who must fend off a series of rapists, mean men and the Japanese Army itself, all the while running a successful winery. Throughout the film, Zhang uses boxes, deep reds and tight squares to amplify Nine's sexist surroundings. Indeed, the film opens with Nine literally forced into a box, a social reality which she spends the film attempting to break free of or even transform. For Zhang, China wasn't "disrupted" by the Japanese invasion, it was hell long before. Like most of Zhang's films during this period, "Sorghum" sketches the cultural and socioeconomic conditions which spurred China, with hopeful arms, toward Maoism.
Zhang's next film, "Ju Dou", covers similar material. Here Gong Li plays Ju Dou, a woman sold to a violent oaf ("When I buy an animal I treat it as I wish!") who owns a fabric dying establishment. After her husband is crippled, Ju Dou forges a relationship with Yang Jinshan, a relative. When Ju Dou and Jinshan have a child together, the kid grows up into a mean brute. Like "Sorghum", "Ju Duo" is a tragedy obsessed with rich reds, boxes and patriarchal violence. Whilst its plot superficially echoes Zhang's own adulterous, then-scandalous affair with Gong Li, Zhang seems more interested in the way Ju Dou and Jinshan hide their illicit affair from other villagers. For Zhang, the duo's tacit submission to social mores merely validates the notion that their love is scandalous and so merely validates the symbolic power of the crippled patriarch, a power which Ju Dou's son must as per his mother's very own actions thereby respect and avenge.
The arbitrary nature of power, and how this power is always "symbolic" and always unconsciously maintained (via ritual, personal belief and shared delusions), is itself the obsession of Zhang's "Raise the Red Lantern". Here Gong Li again plays a woman sold to a wealthy man. This man has several other wives, all of whom begin to violently fight one another in an attempt to win the patriarch's adoration. "Is it the fate of women to become concubines?" a character asks, pointing to the film's deft critique of feudal relations. Zhang's first masterpiece, "Lantern" is again obsessed with reds, boxes and sequestered women, though here Zhang replaces the voluptuous colours, camera work and widescreen Cinemascopes of his previous films with something more restrained. Because of this, Zhang's conveying of claustrophobia and oppression, of mind and spirit pushed to madness, feels all the more powerful.
Next came Zhang's "The Story of Qiu Ju". A near masterpiece, it stars Gong Li as Qui Ju, a peasant farmer who embarks on a quest to avenge her husband, who's had his crotch kicked in by a village leader. More emasculated by this attack than her own husband, Qui Ju's quest takes her all across China, dealing with a Chinese bureaucracy which seems quite helpful, polite and even rational. And yet still this bureaucracy does not please Qiu Ju. It thinks in terms of commodities, monetary recompense and punishment, whilst Qiu Ju (like Zhang Yimou himself, whose previous films were banned, without explanation, by Chinese authorities) seems more interested in acquiring a "shuafa", a simple explanation and apology. By the film's end, both the "primitive justice" of rural China and the "civilized justice" of modern China are simultaneously mocked, praised and shown to be thoroughly incompatible. Zhang's first "neo-realist" film, "Qiu Ju" was shot with hidden cameras, amateur actors, and so is filled with subtle observations, cruel ironies and beautiful sketches of peasant life.
One of Zhang's finest films, "To Live" followed. It stars Gong Li as Jiazhen, the wife of a wealthy man (Ge You) who is addicted to gambling. When this gambling results in the family losing its mansions, riches and status, Jiazhen and her husband are forced onto the streets. Ironically, this set-back saves the family; the Cultural Revolution arrives, and with China's shift to nascent communism, all wealthy land owners are demonised, attacked and killed.
Unlike most films which tackle life under Mao's Great Leap Forward, "To Live" carefully juggles the good and bad of what was essentially a nation shirking off feudalism, monarchs, uniting and then trying, clumsily, to cook up some form of egalitarian society. This quest results in all manners of contradictions and socio-political paradoxes: community, solidarity and a simple life save our heroes, but their world is one of paranoia, danger, and in which everyone and everything is accused of being "reactionary". The film ends with Jiazhen's daughter dying, a death which is the result of both unchecked consumption (a doctor dies gobbling food) and communist "reorganisation" (all competent doctors have been killed/jailed for being counter-revolutionary). This jab at communism got the film banned in China (further highlighting the insecurity of the regime). Ironically, Maoism saw massive positive health care reformations, and saw an improvement in mortality rates which at times surpassed even then contemporary Britain and parts of America (life expectancy doubled from 32 years in the 1940s to 65 years in the 1970s). But such things don't concern Zhang. Spanning decades, "To Live" is mostly a broad account of life, love, loss and growth (the personal and political), all unfolding upon a canvas that is devastatingly cruel. Significantly, the film's title is both adjectival and a command; this is "what life is", but one must nevertheless "always push on". Gong Li and Ge You in particular are excellent.
7.9/10 - See "Yellow Earth" (1984).
One of Zhang Yimou's early movies casts Gong Li as the abused wife of a
wealthy silk dyer in 1920s China. She starts having an affair with her
husband's nephew...but complications arise.
The visuals play a major role in "Ju Dou". Obviously, there are the silk sheets hung to dry. But also, there are some shots of the Chinese countryside. It seems to represent the idealistic aims of the wife and nephew. The funeral procession was a really impressive scene.
Zhang Yimou is now known for movies like "Hero", "House of Flying Daggers" and "Curse of the Golden Flower" (he seems to have leaned more towards Hollywood with each successive movie). I always like seeing the early work, just to see how a person started. This is a good one.
Ju Dou is certainly an engaging enough film, because I like a filmmaker
like Zhang Yimou who can be so fascinating with deep hues of colors in
his costumes, sets, and cinematography. That's the way he tells his
films' stories. And it's beautifully expressive, even in a grainy,
lower- budgeted movie like Ju Dou.
In its story of lustful vindication against a frightfully disgusting character, it can seem as if it's going in the wrong direction, sometimes disappointing the viewer's lustfully vengeful expectations for the movie's hero and heroine, but it should be realized that Ju Dou is a movie about passion vs. tradition, the emotional tempests people would go through under the businesslike customs and conventions of the time period.
Ju Dou is worth seeing for its directors and writer's intuitive understanding of its drama and Gong Li's intense early performance. Hero and House of Flying Daggers are much more breathtaking than this early work of Yimou's, but for fans of emotional, romantic yet biting character dramas, and for fans of Asian cinema, I think you will be moved.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Any Zhang Yimou movie is great, and this one is particularly good. It's
not "Raise The Red Lantern," mind, but very good, and obviously a lot
of the movie was done as a sort of precursor to Raise The Red Lantern,
which also features the awesomely sexy Gong Li.
The basic plot line involves a miserly old man, Jinshan, and his adopted nephew, Tianqing. Jinshan purchases a new wife, Ju Dou, played, of course, by Gong Li. It turns out he's a brutal sadist who makes up for his impotence by torturing his wives. Ju Dou turns to Tianqing, with whom she conceives a son. The movie is basically about Tianqing and Ju Dou trying to find happiness, in spite of a son who won't recognize Tianqing as his father (and later kills him), a society that won't let them marry or see each other, and a husband who, before he dies (also killed, accidentally, by the son), is just as cruel as ever, physically and psychologically. It's a very intriguing movie, with characters who, although complex, are driven by a very basic goal all of us share.
It seems like some of the other reviewers didn't actually watch the movie, though; the son, Tianbai, is not evil. It's just that he feels strong loyalty to Jinshan, the husband of his mother and the man whose house he is carrying on. He fetches no plot to kill anyone, although he does.
This is, all the way through, excellent Zhang Yimou and excellent Gong Li. A must-watch for anyone who's a fan of either.
This work by Zhang Yimou (for those of you who don't know, Chinese surnames are written and spoken before first names) is an excellent step towards the masterpiece that came next in his line of films. He begins to further establish his signature as a director through heavy use of symbolic color and specific camera techniques that convey meaning beautifully. Please see this film if you get a chance--it's well worth it, especially if you like Zhang and/or Chinese cinema in particular.
For those who pay attention to such things, Gong Li shows more skin
than seems to be usual in Chinese movies. Not that it matters, of course, to
people like you and me who only watch movies because of their cultural and
Impending doom overlays every scene in Ju Dou and the closed in, claustrophobic atmosphere creates an almost unbearable tension. The photography, of course, is exquisite, the acting subtle, and Gong Li is beautiful. The ending, however, is less that brilliant. A little unanticipated twist to Gong Li's fate might have made this an exceptional rather than just a very good movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In ten or twenty years, Zhang Yimou will be regarded as one of the
foreign directors. I think his film Raise the Red Lantern is one of the
greatest films ever made, easily. Ju Dou is just one step below it.
Its positive points are too numerous to mention in any great detail. Just let me warn you that, like almost every movie ever put on video, this film's video/DVD box lies horrendously about what you're about to experience. Ju Dou is not a passionate story of forbidden love. It is not Romeo and Juliette, and you're not going to desire to watch it every Valentine's Day. It is not erotic, but brutal. It is an utterly complex film which is consistently challenging.
The film starts off pretty conventionally with a mean old man purchasing a young wife in the hopes of producing a son with her. He spends several days beating her into submission. During this period, the old man's nephew, who is treated horribly by his uncle, begins to obsess over his new aunt's beauty. The aunt notices his obsession, and welcomes him as a sort of savior from the cruelty of her husband. We expect a plot where these two find a way to escape their common nemesis, or maybe even kill him. He seems like any other villain to us. The nephew and his aunt produce a child, which is passed off as the old man's. Soon after this, the old man is in an accident and is paralyzed below the waste.
Now the young couple has their common tormentor at their mercy, and they use that to their full advantage with horrifying physical and mental torture. They almost instantly tell him that his son is actually the son of his nephew. They build him a tub with wheels (the Chinese version of a wheelchair), and when he misbehaves, they suspend him from the ceiling. This behavior confuses us deeply. What would we do in a similar situation? Maybe the same thing. But when we see it done, we cannot help but be horrified. Cruelty has begotten cruelty, and everything is spinning out of control.
Meanwhile, the young child ages. He has not talked yet, and silently and painfully watches as his mother and cousin cavort, not hiding their lust in the least (it does turn from passion to lust very quickly). The child does not feel that these two have any feelings for him, so he connects to the old man, whom he believes is his father. In fact, his first word comes when the old man is plotting to murder him: "Daddy," spoken to the old man. The old man is ecstatic, not so much because his "son" has just spoken as because he knows the implications of the child knowing him as his father instead of his cousin.
I won't go any further, but this film becomes more painful by the second.
My complaints need to be voiced, too. They are few, but key. First, I think that the first half hour or so should have been fleshed out a bit. The relationships and even the characters could have stood to be more developed earlier on. I do not like how Yimou uses slow motion in this film. It does not feel right. My final complaint is with the very end of the film. It is a bit of a cop out, to end the story by burning the house down. I think the only problem in Raise the Red Lantern was also the very end, where Gong Li's character just goes insane. I think it is better to know that the character exists and will have to live with his/her mistakes forever. That is much more powerful, and a better ending. Anyhow, this film is a 9/10.
Controversial melodrama from China has a middle-aged man falling for the abused wife of his "adopted" uncle while working in a dye plant on the outskirts of town. Directors Fengliang Yang and Yimou Zhang have fashioned a no-holds-barred human tragedy here, painted in rich, vivid colors, but the downbeat tone of the whole thing is a bit wearing, especially since the film runs too long. Plenty of florid atmospherics--and smoldering Gong Li as the wife--still hold interest. Banned in its own country for showing the Chinese people in a negative light, the movie went on to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film. ** from ****
I have become a huge fan of Gong Li and have now purchased five films that she has appeared in. Ju Dou is by far her sexiest and most daring performance. She plays the lead character in the film named Ju Dou. She is a poor woman who is purchased by an old, impotent, and extremely cruel and abusive man who owns a Dye Factory. His name is Yang Jinshan. He wants to have an heir to succeed him but is having trouble getting his battered bride to conceive. At this juncture, his nephew, named Yang Tianqing, who is a mild mannered pervert who likes to be voyeuristic and watch his Uncle's new bride wash herself. Before he knows it, as the uncle is out on a trip, Ju Dou seduces him in one of the most erotic seduction scenes of all time. This is done in a very classy way, there is no nudity, but what is implied is quite obvious. In the aftermath of these proceedings, Ju Dou becomes pregnant and informs her "jackass" of a husband that she is going to give him a son. He is quite pleased and they end up naming the son, Yang Tianbi. Eventually the husband is crippled in an accident, and is later killed in an accident involving his son. For some odd reason, the son is as evil as can be and hates his mother and real Dad with a passion and proceeds with a plot to kill them. 2/3 of this movie is great. The last third in my opinion is that it is stupid. It is kind of like they tried to make Damien, The Omen, Part 4. The cinematography is excellent, but the last third of the movie was poorly done in my opinion. Like I said, this was Gong Li's sexiest role. She really has a way to express herself to the camera. However, the movie falls short of the mark.
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