Ju Dou

The second feature by Zhang Yimou, this 1990 film is even more beautiful and complex than Red Sorghum, both in its ravishing uses of color and its grim critique of feudalism. Freely adapted by author Liu Heng from his contemporary novel Fu Xi, Fu Xi, the film centers on a dye factory in northwest China in the 1920s; the factory’s bitter, sadistic, and impotent owner purchases a third wife named Ju Dou (Gong Li) in hopes of gaining an heir, and he mercilessly beats and tortures her when she fails to produce one. She initiates a passionate affair with his adopted nephew, who works at the factory, and when she becomes pregnant with the nephew’s child, feudal custom dictates that they pretend her husband is the father. After the husband suffers a crippling accident they flaunt their relationship in front of him, but the son grows up hating the lovers: unlike the other major characters, the son is treated as an allegorical figure for the persistence of Chinese feudalism. In Mandarin with subtitles. 95 min. (JR)

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