|Index||7 reviews in total|
This movie is the adaptation of Stefan Zweig's story "Letter from an
unknown woman" to China settling in a time period before the cultural
The director (Xu Jinglei) who is also the main actress of the movie has created a very nice visual atmosphere to reflect a heartbreaking one-sided love story. The performances of the players and the music of the movie are successful. Although the tempo of the movie becomes unnecessarily slow at certain parts, the overall result is quite satisfactory.
If you are interested in Asian culture and the living style, you will find an additional taste in this movie.
Long, languid shots of an immense beauty define this beautiful story. Warm, gentle colors fill the screen with stunning images and sounds, both music and painful silence awaken all our senses. This is a movie of a different kind than the average Western viewer sees in the theaters.It doesn't bombard you with explosions and cheap thrills. It doesn't cherish the obvious and trite. It dares to force the viewer to introspect and face the disquiet. This is a different world, where the real action and thrill is in the eye of the beholder, where director is not expected or required to chew everything for us, so that, God forbid, the viewer doesn't choke on the plethora of meaning. And guess what? We survived and we are better for it.Thank you.
I am a huge fan of the American film Letter from an Unknown Woman (Ophuls/Koch, 1948), so I was ready to be sort of defensive about this one. But I must admit it is really very very good. One reason I don't mind having another version is that this one is so different. While the 1948 version is squarely in the romantic tradition, this film is very realistic. It is also much closer to the Stefan Zweig short story that both films are based on. The best thing about it I think is the amazingly convincing portrayal of a character who ages from her early teens to her early thirties. I have never seen that sort of thing done so well. The one flaw, I think, is the casting of Wen Jiang as the man who is the object of the woman's erotic obsession. He just doesn't have the magnetism to get us to sympathize with her fixation on him. But then, maybe we aren't supposed to.
Overall, it's a nice movie for Xu as her second movie as both the director and the leading actress. The adaptation is so natural that nobody would regard the story as a "non-Chinese" one. The music is great with Lin Hai, the outstanding composer. The sound of Pipa goes smoothly with the movie, typical Chinese which fits the time background. As for the actors...Well, here is by what I mean "it could be better". Jiang Wen isn't that suitable for this part as "the man", Xu Jinglei(the director herself) isn't mother-like enough for the part as "the woman". Some supporting roles are quite good, eg. the old servant... Voila.
Letter from an Unknown Woman (2004)
I got this in the mail by mistake, but was thrilled to see a contemporary Chinese adaptation of the famous story by Stefan Zweig. The lush, fluid Max Ophuls version from 1948 would have to wait.
But hopefully not for long. This one, filmed with the common "pretty" cinematography of a lot of contemporary epics and romances, is really adequate on the surface. I say that without sarcasm, because it does gradually and slowly (too slowly) tell the story. It lingers on pretty details, it luxuriates in mood and in the passing of time, and it inserts some historical particulars that make it its own film (namely the Japanese aggression on China as WWII approaches and then unleashes). All of this goes almost nowhere emotionally, or even in a narrative sense, mostly because it is simply presented, rather than organically unfolded.
I think it might be enjoyable for its ambiance, and for a nostalgic look at an earlier China. The story is given what it needs to make sense, but is overwrought in a way the Ophuls film, by some magic, is not, even though it's the same melodrama at hand. Maybe it is partly an issue of good old acting and directing--a lack of truly penetrating acting is plain enough, but the direction avoids some of the great possibilities with even these two main leads, often watching them from afar or without words. This can work beautifully in film, of course, but it takes a different kind of poetry to pull off.
So, the appearances of a moving, great movie only.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film really excited me about Xu Jinglei. The directorial hand is
very mature and accomplished. The film has a great period feel to it,
like something from Hollywood in the 40s. The cinematography by Lee Pin
Bing is gorgeous and I'm sure that helped. The acting is all quite
good. Strange then, to have to say that I didn't really enjoy the
movie. Again, as with Xu Jinglei's directorial debut MY FATHER AND I,
it's the story that let me down. I know it's an old story, one I
haven't read nor seen any previous adaptations of, but I think I can
say that while it might look good on paper, in outline form, it doesn't
fare very well in this particular presentation.
There may be some cultural nuances that were lost on me, and I do have to say that the subtitles that came with the film were really, really bad. Here's where it lost me: The character development didn't seem secure enough for me to accept the first disappearance of the writer after the initial affair. Frankly, it shocked me. I went along with it for the sake of the story, but it left me twitching a little. Then when they meet again and the writer doesn't recognize the woman, I fell off the bandwagon. I can accept not recognizing someone with a different hairdo eight years later passing them on the street but once you've gotten to the naughty bits, I don't buy it. I imagine this is all nit-picky to a story about the sadness of an extremely one-sided love affair, but I wanted something to assure me that this one-sided love was warranted and I didn't get it.
I would recommend this film to anyone who enjoys a good love story. It's a beautiful film, and if you're not a lion in the tall grass, stalking, just waiting to pounce, like me, when you think that Xu Jinglei has failed in her exposition, the story is probably pretty good too. Stories for movies often come from outside sources but it ultimately falls on the director to tell the story in a convincing manner. Xu Jinglei, I'm officially a fanboy. Get to work.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
On a wintry night in 1940s China, a writer gets a letter from an
unnamed woman who has just lost her son. He doesn't remember her.
They've met three times in their lives, and every time he doesn't
remember her, so unimportant she is to him. Now after their son's
death, she is about to commit suicide but not before she tells him her
story. With her voice-over narrating the contents, she describes their
first meeting, their ill-fated affair, and the son borne from it.
We get a flashback to the 1930s when the couple first meets. She's a girl about 13-14 who's fascinated by the famous writer who has decided to take the apartment across from hers. Although they've never spoken to each other, she develops a crush and falls headlong in love with him. To her dismay, though, she finds out that she will have to move to another city and cannot see him anymore. The director accurately captures the boredom and ordinariness of the girl's life before the dashing writer comes into it. Once the writer appears, though, the film deflates a little. For me the actor cast as the writer doesn't seem to physically represent what is expected of the character. Instead of handsome, he's genially middle-aged. It was hard to imagine that a thirteen year old girl would take one look at him and fall head-over-heels in love. He's apparently a well-respected actor in China so maybe Chinese audiences will understand the appeal, but as a viewer who has never heard of him I was stumped.
The second time they meet is about 6 years later. The girl has returned to Beijing for college. The character is now played by actress Xu Jinglei (who's also the director). She rents an apartment near the writer's to be closer to him. To her excitement, he takes a liking to her and they begin an affair. He doesn't recognize her at all since she's grown up and she doesn't tell him they've met before. She thinks this is love only to be heartbroken when he breaks it off abruptly.
She takes it surprisingly well though. Pregnant with his child, she's not angry with him. Doesn't even bother him for child support. Instead she raises the child on her own, while working as an escort. They meet again for a third time several years later. But he still doesn't recognize her, even though he gets a feeling of deja vu. Still she doesn't tell him.
Now this is where the film may lose viewers, it's hard to imagine a man so forgetful or prolifically promiscuous that he doesn't realize he has already slept with that woman. And it may be hard for modern audiences to accept a woman who effaces herself so willingly to that man. The film with its tragic story, period setting, and span of several years seems to aspire to be an old-fashioned melodrama, yet the directing and acting style is understated. The feature ends up coming off rather anemic. Although it's a sad story, both the writer and the unknown woman get no characterization so it's hard to summon up much emotion for them.
Xu Jinglei as the unknown woman is quite good, especially at the end. This is her directing debut and it's ably made, even if there isn't any excitement to be had. Die-hard romantics may like this film, but I don't think it's worth looking at otherwise.
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