Li Shaohong, the only female member of China’s celebrated Fifth Generation of filmmakers, offers a remarkable retrospective look (1995) at the 1949 communist revolution. Adapting a novel by Su Tong, author of the source material for Raise the Red Lantern, it follows two former Shanghai prostitutes who are close friends and one of their favorite former clients and their shifting fortunes over many years, and its conclusions about their separate strengths, weaknesses, and destinies are never simple or obvious. The beautiful cinematography, by Li’s husband Zeng Nianping, frames much of the action from a distance, in a manner that recalls both Chinese painting and 30s Mizoguchi, while remaining unusually sensitive to architecture (for example, the film wonderfully reveals the interactions between one couple and their downstairs neighbors with many shots framed from the courtyard). This is the best mainland Chinese feature I saw in the mid-90s. In Cantonese with subtitles. 115 min. (JR)

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