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JU DOU

China / Japan, 1990 (MIFF 1991)

Director: Zhang Yimou

Zhang Yimou has followed up his delirious Red Sorghum (a 1988 Festival highlight) with another quintessentially Chinese tale of desire and its traps.

Ju Dou (played by luminous Gong Li, Zhang's real-life partner) is a young peasant girl bought as a wife by the elderly owner (Li Wei) of a smalltown dyeworks. The old man is impotent, but he has already driven three wives to an early grave because they have failed to give him an heir. Ju Dou, however, succeeds in becoming pregnant - except that it's not by her husband but by his young cousin (Li Bao-tian). The stage is set for a rush of jealousies, recriminations, taunts and ultimately, a murder.

It's fair to say that Ju Dou is not only a companion-piece to Red Sorghum but also a cunning inversion of the earlier film's themes. The storyline seems to promise a claustrophobic chamber-drama but Zhang turns it into something altogether more expansive and liberating.

The workshop where most of it takes place is a remarkable setting, a vast, airy building hung high with swathes of brightly coloured cloth; the place becomes as much a "character" as the people, allowing the film to reach well beyond the confines of a local case of adultery. (Whether it reaches into the area of political allegory is for you to judge.)

Zhang made the film as a Japan/China co-production and edited it in Tokyo - which is just as well, since Ju Dou is currently banned in China. - (T.R.)

"To say that Ju Dou is a sumptuous visual delight is an understatement. Rarely has colour been used with such expressive power and with such restraint. Designed to highlight and accentuate mood and atmosphere. Zhang Yimou's carefully composed palette and beautiful images function as counterpoints to a story that unfolds with hypnotic logic." PieTS Handling, Toronto Film Festival.

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