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Ju Dou Movie Review

film husband affair zhang

Ju Dou was the first Chinese film to be nominated for an Academy Award. The Chinese government fought the nomination for the film, which had effectively been banned in its own country. Ju Dou is sharply critical of the traditional rural customs that prevailed in the 1920s. Ju Dou, the title character, is purchased as the third wife of Jinshan, an abusive old man who beats her when she fails to produce an heir. The young woman enters into an affair with Tianquing, her husband's nephew, but they must pretend that their baby is the son of Ju Dou's husband. The husband is soon the victim of an accident, which paralyzes him and leaves him helpless. Ju Dou and her lover make no attempt to hide their affair in front of him, although they conceal the affair from the villagers on penalty of death. The triangle becomes progressively more and more tortured and, without giving too much of the plot away, it's no wonder that Tianbai, Ju Dou's baby, evolves into rather a strange child. Director Zhang Yimou's interpretation of Liu Heng's novel-based screenplay is masterful; it was his wonderfully cinematic decision to transplant the story into a dye factory. The colorful dye factory serves the function of a fifth character and is symbolic of everything the lovers have to gain and lose. Beautifully acted and photographed, Ju Dou lingers in the mind, both for its compelling narrative and its deeply disturbing emotional landscape. Although the film is set entirely in the ‘20s, the hopelessness of Ju Dou's situation persisted in China of the ‘90s, where women could still be bought and sold for as little as $400.

1990 (PG-13) 98m/C CH Gong Li, Li Bao-Tian, Li Wei, Zhang Yi, Zheng Jian; D: Zhang Yimou; W: Liu Heng; C: Gu Changwei, Yang Lun; M: Xia Rujin, Jiping Zhao. Nominations: Academy Awards ‘90: Best Foreign Film. VHS, LV

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