Monday, October 18, 2010

Zhou Yu's Train

Zhou Sun, 2004, China (8.1*)
This multi-layered romance will confuse some western audiences, boring many, and stimulate thinking and discussion about film style in others. A lot of what viewers will get from this will be based on what they take into it as experienced filmgoers.

On the surface, this is a simple romance about a porcelain painter, wonderfully played by Gong Li, one of the greatest Chinese actresses, who takes a long train journey twice a week to visit her lover, a poet (Tony Leung Ka Fai) who wins her heart with his tenderness and simple romantic poems to her he publishes in the local newspaper. She wants him to publish them in a book, feeling that he deserves a wide audience. She is also hounded on the trips by a brash but realistic vet, Honglei Sun, who begs her to quit traveling to a man not interested in commitment and stay closer to home, like with him. So she is pulled in two directions, one from the heart, one more from the body.

What makes this story more complex is that Gong Li plays a more modern woman with short hair, who also takes the train, and who is told this story from a third-person point of view, so we begin to wonder if this actually happened or is a fabrication of the poet as an author of a romance, perhaps based on the inspiration for his poems.

If you want a linear and clear story moving from A to C to get to conclusion D, this will frustrate you. If you enjoy Chinese films that are more about feelings, visual poetry, and life constantly in motion and change, then you will likely be haunted by this film for days to follow. I could make a case for either argument. Fans of the visual non-linear films of Wong Kar-Wai should enjoy this one from director Zhou Sun. Think French New Wave, a la modern China, with the rolling landscape and train also being major characters, as life is as much about the journey as the destination.

Note: Gong Li is so amazing that, as some said, I could watch her read the phone book. Her best film is Zhang Yimou's To Live (1994), winner of the Palm D'or at Cannes.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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