Ju Dou | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The second feature of Zhang Yimou (Red Sorghum), perhaps the best-known "Fifth Generation" director from the People's Republic of China, is even more beautiful and complex than its predecessor, both in its ravishing uses of color and its grim critique of feudalism. Winner of a Golden Hugo at the 1990 Chicago Film Festival (under the title Secret Love, Hidden Faces), it is the first Chinese-language film to have been nominated for an Oscar, although the Chinese government tried to disqualify it and has prevented it from receiving any public screenings domestically, apparently because of its pessimism and its failure to provide any role models. Freely adapted from the contemporary novel Fu-Xi, Fu-Xi by its author Liu Heng, the film is centered around a dye factory in northwest China in the 1920s. Jinshan (Li Wei), the bitter, sadistic, and impotent owner of the factory, purchases a third wife named Ju Dou (Gong Li) with the hopes of gaining an heir, and mercilessly beats and tortures her when she fails to produce one. She initiates a passionate affair with his adopted nephew Tianqing (Li Baotian), who works at the factory, and after she becomes pregnant with his child, feudal custom dictates that she and Tianqing pretend that Jinshan is the father. After Jinshan suffers an accident that cripples him from the waist down, the lovers flaunt their relationship in front of him, but their son grows up hating both of them. This son, unlike the other major characters, is treated as an allegorical figure representing the persistence of Chinese feudalism. Powerful both as spectacle and as narrative, this is the most impressive film from the People's Republic to have opened commercially in the U.S., and it shouldn't be missed (1990). (Fine Arts)


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