Owen Gleiberman
April 05, 1991 AT 05:00 AM EST

Ju Dou

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
Unrated
runtime
95 minutes
Limited Release Date
12/31/90
performer
Gong Li, Mark Salzman, Yang Fenliang
director
Yang Fenliang, Zhang Yimou
distributor
Miramax
author
Lui Heng
genre
Foreign Language, Drama

We gave it a B

In China, a land of many rules “forbidden passion” isn’t something out of a bad romance novel. It’s still possible to make a movie there about a scandalous love affair in which the lovers’ secretiveness — the fact that they’re drawn together against all better judgment! — becomes tantalizingly erotic. Zhang Yimou’s fable, a nominee for this year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar (see box), beings as the story of a romantic triangle. In a small village in the ’20s, a beautiful young woman, Ju Dou (Gong Li), is purchased by a prosperous, tyrannical man (Li Wei) who owns a mill for dyeing textiles. Because he’s impotent and a scoundrel, he spends much of the time beating her. Ready to die from pain and grief, she seduces the mill owner’s cowering nephew, Tianqing (Li Baotian), a skinny fellow with a shaven head who resembles a frightened Buddhist priest. The movie, which is photographed in a beautifully lush palette of oranges and reds, is a tale of fate, with the clandestine couple fighting to hold onto each other in a repressive, puritanical world. Ju Dou has been called a Chinese-folktale version of The Postman Always Rings Twice. It’s very deftly made, with the sort of dramatic shadings we’ve rarely seen in Chinese cinema. At the same time, the movie has a short-coming that plagues most variations on the Postman saga: It’s far more convincing during the first half — when the heat is on — than it is later, when the characters actually have to suffer retribution for their lust. B

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