The plot is of a grief stricken woman who stalks her family's murderers, a common motivation in Chinese period pictures. Sumptuously photographed, slow moving and carefully precise in its period detail, this one is nonetheless very different from the type of film that typically inhabits this genre. Most significant is its evocation of its setting. Despite the opening massacre that drives its plot, the period evoked is not one of chaotic lawlessness and pervasive evil, but rather one in which ordinary people live ordinary lives and want ordinary things. Sometimes sudden violence enters the lives of such people, notably the main character played by Wu Chien Lien. I'm a big fan, and this is some of her best work. The character is basically a good person driven by and conflicted over a desire to revenge that is both beneath and ennobled by her. Her pain drives her to seek vengeance, but she is ever its reluctant agent. Too often in this sort of picture we watch a supposedly normal character morph into the Terminator following a lesser trauma than that faced by Wu. Here, what would have been a straight-forward revenge mission is continuously side-tracked by the unpredictable results of the interactions of the characters. Here again is a huge difference: necessities of plot do not contrive to move the characters along, but rather character serves to untrack plot. How often does that happen? Wu finds herself in very unfamiliar terrain as an agent of vengeance and reacts and interacts with this in moving and unexpected ways. The result is a very unique, difficult to predict and generally engrossing piece of period moviemaking.
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