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01 October 2005

The Story of Qiu Ju (1992)

Gong Li (Qiu Ju), Liu Peiqi (her husband, Qinglai), Yang Liuchun (Qinglai's sister, Meizi)

Directed by Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers)

Mandarin title: Qiu Ju da guan si

From Hollywood Video: "Critically acclaimed, handsomely crafted Chinese drama about a worn peasant woman seeking justice within a bureaucratic system. An ironic, well-acted tale pleases foreign film fans and lovers of multi-layered, complex parables."

This was a (surprisingly) humorous and (not-so-surprisingly) bittersweet tale, with Gong Li's quiet, stubborn determination as its hallmark. Her character, Qiu Ju, was arrogant, but not in a flamboyant or brash way. Quite the opposite. Her arrogance came from the deeply embedded belief in her version of what was right and proper.

Her husband was kicked in the crotch by the communal Chief, and Qiu Ju became convinced that he was owed an apology. She was stoic, quiet, fully eight months pregnant, and unwilling to permit the Chief's "saving face" to trump her husband's rights. As she faced questions from increasing levels of official bureaucracy, she repeated that her husband had been kicked there, and therefore the assault was particularly egregious and offensive. She did not want money or platitudes from other people, just one man's honest contrition. Unfortunately, honest contrition cannot be legislated or enforced, and she was continuously frustrated by the details and intricacies of a system that could not decree a very old measure of human decency: an apology.

The humor and the bittersweetness were interlaced. In one scene, when Qiu Ju and her sister-in-law reach The City (the fact that all places remain nameless reinforces the parabolic nature of the story), they are told that their country clothes make them an easy mark for thieves and scams. They promptly buy new coats - horrible, stylized 80s garb - and wear them over their country clothes with head scarves and quilted shirts poking out from underneath. They looked even more ridiculous and innocent. And when calling on one judicial director, they decide to bring him presents in gratitude. They do not buy candy because it's too plain and common where they are from. They buy fruit instead - a rare treat to them.

The finale, in which temporary grudges are put aside in order to resolve an issue of life and death, serves as a reminder that in a close, communal society or family setting, people's reliance on each other overrides all other concerns. And when the final judicial decision is handed down from on high - a decision that saddens and angers all parties - the film poignantly demonstrates how issues can be blown out of proportion to the detriment of all concerned. Had Qiu Ju accepted some lesser form of the Chief's apology, or had the Chief admitted his fault, they would have saved themselves much more serious consequences - not to mention a half dozen trips to The City on buses shared with goats and chickens.

Blogger Mircalla said...

I liked this story... I would like to watch it but it is hard to find indipendent films locally. Funny, eh?! I live in the biggest European capital and I have not clue where to find cool DVDs.
Well, if you pay (25 pounds for the opening show), you can have access at the eclectic film festival on at the end of the month...

Blogger carrie_lofty said...

If you can find ANY film by the director, Zhang Yimou, it's worth renting. This was the last major film release of his that I hadn't seen yet - all of them are terrific, and surprisingly different despite the fact that Gong Li (his girlfriend at the time) was in so many of them.

Blogger Mircalla said...

I will look for it. Thanks.

Blogger Diva Kitty's Mom said...

Loved this movie; However, Raise the Red Lantern will always be my fav collaboration between Zhang and Gong Li.

Blogger carrie_lofty said...

Me too. It was the first I saw of theirs, then searched the back catalogue. To Live is a tear-jerker, and Shanghai Triad is a somber farewell to their collaborations, but nothing tops RTRL. It even got me thinking that Chinese opera could be, somehow, listenable (as opposed to Farewell, My Concubine, which gave me a headache).


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