Director: Zhang Yi Mou
Studio: Zhang Yi Mou
About This DVD
1. Red Sorghum
An old leper who owned a remote sorghum winery dies. Jiu'er, the wife bought by the leper, and her lover, identified only as "my Grandpa" by the narrator, take over the winery and set up an idealized quasi-matriarchal community headed by Jiu'er. When the Japanese invaders subject the area to their rule and cut down the sorghum to make way for a road, the community rises up and resists as the sorghum grows anew. In the process of resisting the Japanese, Jiu'er dies.
2. Ju Dou
A dark, sensual, and visually sumptuous drama, Ju Dou centers on the title character, the third wife of a wealthy silk dyer in 1920s China. Forced into marriage by poverty, Ju Dou is repeatedly mistreated and cruelly disciplined by her husband, Jin-shan, for failing to bear him an heir. Her suffering attracts the sympathy of Jin-shan's younger, kinder nephew, Tian-qing, and the two begin a secret affair that could have tragic consequences. Spanning the course of many years, the film's narrative takes several surprising turns, defying expectations and complicating audience sympathies. None of the film's characters is wholly heroic or evil, allowing all three central performers - Li Bao-tian as Tian-qing, Li Wei as Jin-shan, and the luminous Gong Li as Ju Dou - to fashion memorable, complex portrayals. Director Zhang Yimou, a former cinematographer, uses gorgeously saturated images that emphasize his story's elemental nature, which often recalls classical tragedy. Met with controversy in China due to supposed political overtones that worried government officials, Ju Dou received fairer treatment overseas, winning an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film and numerous festival prizes.
Sumptuously photographed yet coolly fatalistic, Ju Dou was banned in its native China while wowing critics abroad with its strikingly erotic content and remarkably direct political subtext. It was nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign Language Film and established the careers of director Zhang Yimou and actress Gong Li. Made in the immediate aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, 1989, the film brilliantly allegorizes the cycle of violence beget by feudalism and revolution in 20th century China. Set during the 1920s (before the Communists came to power), the story focuses on a love triangle among Jinshan, an old, cruel silk dyer; his young third wife, Ju Dou (he beat the other two to death); and the old man's nephew, Tianqian, who is too poor to marry. Fueled by the overwhelming weight of tradition and his own sexual impotence, Jinshan initially comes across as a miserly and sadistic monster who showers invective on his nephew and tortures his wife for not bringing him an heir. Yet Ju Dou's and Tianqian's eventual rebellion is anything but noble. After Jinshan is crippled, they flagrantly continue their illicit affair, transgressing the rigid hierarchy of tradition. They taunt Jinshan, as he quietly stews in helpless fury. When the resulting child grows to be a psychotic and violent terror, Zhang's meaning becomes mercilessly clear: you reap what you sow. Dark and unsettling, Ju Dou is a harrowing, sensual tale by a filmmaker reaching the peak of his abilities.
3. Raise the Red Lantern
Zhang Yimou solidifies his standing as one of cinema's most brilliant craftsmen with Raise the Red Lantern, a heartbreaking and fascinating look into the life of a young, well-educated woman who gives up her future to become the fourth wife of a wealthy landowner in 1920s China. Gong Li, the director's longtime muse, delivers a performance nearly unsurpassed by anyone, male or female, in the 1990s (and many other decades, as well). Her opening close-up is an indelible image of sorrow and resignation capable of drawing tears out of a statue. Zhang Yimou makes films as exquisitely composed as any master's painting, and his palette extends beyond the obvious beauty of Gong Li to include the details of the courtyards, lanterns, silks, and rooftops with an inexplicable mixture of tranquility and austerity.
4. The Story of Qiu Ju
A pregnant peasant woman seeks redress from the Chinese bureaucracy after the village chief kicks her husband in the groin in this comedy of justice. As she is frustrated by each level of the hierarchy and travels farther and farther away from the countryside the viewer is also provided with a look at the changing Chinese society through the verite camera used in most scenes.
Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou attempts to skirt the newly zealous communist censors by shooting his latest work, "The Story of Qiu Ju," as a quasi-documentary. A not-quite-seamless blend of scripted scenes and footage shot "Candid Camera"-style, this cheaply produced and repetitious yarn is bound to disappoint admirers of his ravishing foreign-backed films, "Raise the Red Lantern" and "Ju Dou."
Like Zhang's previous 1920-era films, "The Story of Qiu Ju" is a woman's fable set in the remote northwest province of Shaanxi. Only this time, the story is a contemporary and humorous one about a pregnant peasant's defense of the family jewels; it seems her husband suffered a kick in the crotch during a brawl with the chief of the village.
Gong Li, so compelling as the voluptuous schemer of "Ju Dou," has an altogether different challenge here as the waddling justice-seeker that is Qiu Ju. Swaddled in a quilted jacket against the weather, the enormously pregnant Qiu Ju seems on the verge of giving birth from the opening scene. She and her stalwart young sister-in-law (Yang Liu Chun) have just carted her ailing husband, Qing Lai (Liu Pei Qi), a docile pepper farmer, to see the village doctor.
The doctor assures them that the damage is minimal. Qiu Ju, who suspects the doctor is a veterinarian, is not reassured. Sure she's pregnant, but what if she's carrying a girl instead of a much-preferred jewel-bearer junior? What if she, like the chief's wife, gives birth to a "flock of hens," a failing that Qing had earlier ascribed to the chief's equipment (a taunt for which the chief exacted the aforementioned retaliation).
"I can understand a beating, but you shouldn't have kicked him there," says Qiu Ju to the chief (crusty Lei Lao Sheng), who refuses to apologize for his actions. Not one to walk two paces behind her man, Qiu Ju sets tongues wagging when she asks the Public Security Bureau to mediate the case. The bureau, headed by a friend of the chief, decides the chief should pay Qing's medical bills and lost wages. They rule that both parties were wrong and no apology is called for.
Qiu Ju makes repeated appeals, which involve many identical arduous treks from her rustic farm house into the province's bustling capital city. After getting the runaround from various arms of the bureaucracy, she decides to take the chief to court again, but to no avail. An appeal is underway when Qiu Ju finally goes into a difficult labor and nearly dies, but she and her newborn son are saved by the chief.
The antithesis of the passive Chinese female, Qiu Ju is a marvelous figure, as globular and fixed in her path as Mother Earth herself. Though the question at hand has to do with the nature of justice, whether poetic or proscribed, the film also explores the surprising fecundity of this featureless, dun-colored land. Garlands of bright red pepper and cobs of maize decorate the rugged farmhouses, which are crowded with old folks and young children -- never mind the repeated references to legal limits on reproduction.
"The Story of Qiu Ju" has its bawdy pleasures, but it's far too litigious to be especially entertaining, and is at its best in its documentary mode.
|Audio Format:||DD 2.0 Stereo|
|Video Format:||Full Screen / Widescreen 1.85:1 (Anamorphic)|
|Year Made:||1987 - 1991|
|Availability:||Usually ships in 5-10 days|