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Liyan and Yuwen live in post-war torpor, childless but with Liyan's school-aged sister. He coughs, imagining he has TB; Yuwan embroiders; they sleep in separate rooms. A surprise visit from Liyan's boyhood friend Zhang, a big city physician, wakes up the household. To Zhang's amazement, he discovers his friend's wife is his own youthful sweetheart. Possibilities abound: an affair, an arranged marriage of Zhang and Little Sister, now 16, or simply ending ennui and embracing vitality. Can a stifling atmosphere of Chinese Chekhov give way to spring? Alcohol at a birthday party speeds resolution. Written by
Requires patience from the viewer but is mostly an engaging and beautifully delivered film
Liyan and Yuwen live in a rural town in post-war China. Liyan's impotence and health worries have meant that the couple remain childless, although they do look after his younger sister. The emotional separation that Yumen feels with her husband has caused a physical separation, with the couple sleeping in separate rooms. Liyan is surprised but pleased when school friend Zhang Zhichen comes to visit him although he is surprised to learn that Zhang grew up with Yuwen before he met him. What he doesn't know though is that the pair were young lovers and, while young Xiu falls for the older Zhang, Yuwen also battles the sexual desire within herself.
The plot makes it sound like a very folded in affair that gives little away but suggests lots and that is pretty much exactly what this film is. When I taped it I thought that I was going to be watching the original film rather than this remake but I still found it well worth the watch even if some say it is an inferior film. That may just be a bit of film snobbery (though I have not seen the original) because I personally found this version to be quite rewarding and interesting. It requires patience though, and anyone tuning in not prepared to sit silently for two hours should probably not bother starting it because it is a film that, on the surface, doesn't have a great deal going on. It is the inaction rather than the action that makes the film interesting because it is all about the repression inherent in the characters and, supposedly, the society they live in.
Of course the mood of the film is very obvious and some viewers will just sigh and say "oh good another foreign period film about sexual repression" and I must admit that here and there I was thinking that because it does fold in on itself so much at times that I worried it would create a black hole. Fortunately it does just enough to avoid this and for the majority it keeps the surface moving by allowing the audience to see the undercurrents clearly. It won't be to everyone's taste but if you like things like In The Mood For Love and Merchant & Ivory films then you will enjoy this.
Director Tian makes the film look great and his slow, patient camera movements compliment the material well and helped me as a viewer get into it. The cast are also good and benefit from having few others to distract from the main characters. Jingfan Hu is strong as Yuwen and is able to suggest great passion and desire under the skin of a seemingly patient and quiet woman. Likewise Bai Qing Xin plays his character the same way and does well to work with and against Hu. Jun Wu has a harder task and, although he is good, I didn't think he had as clear and understandable a character as the other two. Si Si Lu is OK but the film rightly sees her as a side issue.
Overall this is a fine film that is worth seeing if you have the patience which it does ask you to have. The emotions are stifled but not to the point where the film dies away or appears cold rather it is tense and dramatic for the most part. At times it threatens to fold away like a deckchair but mostly it is engaging and beautifully crafted.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful.
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