Mr. Zhao

A watershed in the history of Chinese cinema, this first feature (1998) directed by Lu Yue — the remarkable cinematographer of Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl and several recent features of Zhang Yimou, including Shanghai Triad — is an eye-opening comedy about adultery in contemporary Shanghai. Much of the dialogue is improvised by the talented actors — Shi Jingming as the husband, a professor of traditional Chinese medicine; Zhang Zhihua as his factory-worker wife; and Chen Yinan as his mistress and former student — and both the shooting style and the emotional directness of the performances suggest the filmmaking of John Cassavetes. Though this is unquestionably one of the key films of the 90s from mainland China, it unaccountably disappeared from sight after winning the Golden Leopard at the Locarno film festival in 1998, and as far as I know this [in August 1999] is its first commercial run. Viewers requiring the validation of the New York Times or the New Yorker before making their cultural decisions will therefore have to take a pass on this, and it will be their tough luck. (JR)

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