Factory worker Shijun encounters an office girl, Manjing, as they work in the same company together. Manjing's sister, Manlu, is a dance hostess who works to support her family, and who marries a rich client. Shijun belongs to a well-to-do family of merchants in Nanjing. They fall in love, but a tragic turn of events shatters their happiness. Written by
I had heard this film described as a 'Chinese Gone With the Wind' and saw it as part of a 'Hong Kong Melodrama' season. Both these labels do the film an injustice, since it is quite an intimate character study and not just a sweeping epic. Lamentably, the film will probably only have this limited release in the UK.
Firstly, just a quibble: although my Cantonese is minimal, isn't this film mostly in Mandarin? Also, the subtitles were terrible in terms of spelling and grammar, making some scenes a bit difficult to follow and others unintentionally hilarious. Is there no way of getting these subbed before export of the prints?
The story, essentially the problems that beset a young couple in Shanghai in the Thirties, is told without recourse to cliched situations and dialogue and the cinematography is beautiful. I did wonder about the heroine's modern look, but this was a minor consideration. The atmosphere of the lives of working people in what was the most modern city in China is successfully captured and the niceties of Chinese culture thoughtfully portrayed.
This is definitely not an action film, even in terms of a backdrop of dramatic battle / war scenes. Fans of Zhang Yimou will enjoy the stately pace of the narrative, which conveys something of the inevitability of the fate of the main characters. The music, too, is haunting, and not intrusive. Definitely worth considering if you want to lose yourself in an elegaic film about the subtleties of a relationship conducted in a world of cruel financial and moral realities.
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