Ju Dou/A,B-
Pioneer/1990/98/FS 1.33

     What a magnificent film. Such a sexy noir. The use of brilliant color against the plain almost medieval setting of the film is startling. Red and yellow/gold are predominant in the film, colors of good fortune surrounding these unfortunate characters. I can't believe the yardage Zhang Yi-Mou got out of the fabric. You could can easily see the comparisons between Ju Dou and Hollywood’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. There is a clear line of heritage in the storytelling. But while the typical noir film uses black and white images, shadows and hi key lighting to provide a dramatic visual fabric, Director Zhang Yi-Mou works with startling color to embellish emotion. And there is an abundance of emotion on display within the restrictive confines of the rural Chinese dye factory in this story of passion set in the 1920's.The director takes the Hollywood noir concept and stamps it with his own astounding visual explosiveness.
      Jinshan, the aging and childless owner of the dye factory, enters into marriage with a beautiful young woman hoping to produce an heir. Instead, he releases a stream of lava flow from a volcano of sexual passion that must explode between his younger nephew and his unfulfilled wife. The resultant screen sensuality is intense.

Ju Dou hungrily watches Tian-qing©

     Gong Li is perfection itself in the role of Ju Dou. You can feel her blood flow hot with passion under the hot lens of Zhang’s camera. This exquisite actress combines innocence and beauty with a desperate practicality as the linchpin to the unusual triangle. Li Baotian plays her lover with a strangely affecting combination of restraint, fear and hunger. All of the actors seem a natural part of this world.
     Ju Dou stands as a testament to the masterful camera vocabulary of the director. Though compromised significantly by a cropped laser disc transfer, the compositions of the simple mechanical structures of the traditional dye factory make fascinating subject matter for the camera. Many of the erotic scenes unravel in these close quarters as Zhang’s camera records the passion with consummate power. Just as he uses color to enhance the sexual intensity, the sudden release of bolts of fabric from their rolls provides added impact as lovers embrace. The photography is incandescent.
Light filters through bolts of material as they hang to dry, washing out the brilliant colors. There's a scene near the end when the bolts of fabric are shot from such an angle that they look like mourners surrounding a grave. This is one of the most visually powerful films I can recall seeing.
     There are many unexpected turns to the script.
The child's first laugh is so startling, so cold, so frightening and so unexpected. The film is at times a romance, a thriller, a chiller and even comes close to the supernatural as the eerie chords of Xia Ru-jin's musical score reverberate through the rafters of the wooden structure where this tragic tale unfolds. The many startling images will stay with you long after the film's fiery finish.
      Ju Dou is delivered in a reasonable DVD state. White English subtitles are not removable. Titles are slightly jittery. There is some slight color pulsing and in some scenes, fine detail is less than stable. Overall sharpness is more than adequate. The expression of the actors is always clearly revealed.Happily, color saturation is vital and stable. Reds against yellow bolts of fabric are rich with no bleeding. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround tracks provide the soundtrack with the necessary weight. The mechanical pulsing of the dye factory is equally laden with the same sexual tension that pervades almost every scene. The haunting tones of the flute are delivered with proper eerie balance. According to sources at Panavision Ju Dou was shot 1.66 spherical. It is likely that the "Filmed in Panavision" indication in the credits should have read "Filmed with Panavision Lenses."      


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