Fengliang Yang & Yimou Zhang – Ju Dou (1990)


A woman married to the brutal and infertile owner of a dye mill in rural China conceives a boy with her husband’s nephew but is forced to raise her son as her husband’s heir without revealing his parentage in this circular tragedy. Filmed in glowing technicolour, this tale of romantic and familial love in the face of unbreakable tradition is more universal than its setting.

A magnificent melodrama, even more visually sumptuous and emotionally draining than the same director’s earlier Red Sorghum, even though its cruel tale of adultery and revenge constitutes, to some extent, a blatant reworking of themes. This time, it’s set in and around a dyeing workshop in a remote town in the 1920s, where the young wife of the ancient, impotent and sadistic dyer decides to make the old man’s adopted nephew her lover and protector. Even when she finds herself with child, their affair remains a secret; but after the dyer is left partly paralysed by an accident, they brazenly flaunt their love, so that the vengeful cuckold’s only hope is to turn the child against its parents. Hardly surprising, perhaps, that the Chinese authorities virtually dissociated themselves from this Japanese-financed, less-than-rosy picture of a country given over to unfettered sexual desire and murderous hatred. But it’s this vision – expressed through superbly forthright performances, and in images whose stunning colours are sure to stick in the mind – that lends Zhang’s movie the stark, searing power of Greek tragedy. Its dark wit and fiery pace ensure that even the occasional overheated moments carry conviction.


Subtitles:English (idx, sub)

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