"If they knew, they’d kill us."
The eighties were a period of turmoil and transition for the Chinese film industry. Other forms of entertainment were more popular and the authorities were concerned that films that had been popular, like martial arts films, were on the out. But a group of Chinese filmmakers, collectively known loosely as the Fifth Generation – with a push from the new Ministry of Radio, Cinema and Television – were about to change all that, helping Chinese cinema break onto the world stage. And Zhang Yimou was one of the ones leading the charge. But did the Chinese government expect the types of films they would be getting? Join us – Pete Wright and Andy Nelson – as we dig into Chinese cinema and kick off our Zhang Yimou series with his third film, Ju Dou.
We talk about the nature of the film and its story, and how it can be seen as not just a look at Chinese politics in the 20s but also as an allegory of the oppressive political system in China at the time. We look at what Zhang brought to the table with the film and where it fits in his life and career. We chat about Gong Li, Zhang’s muse, and what she and her fellow actors bring to the table. We discuss the incredible look of the film, both from cinematography and production design, and what all the various colors could possibly symbolize. And we gripe about the quality of the image and how much better it would look if Criterion would just take our advice and give this the full treatment – the film is gorgeous but you’d never know by looking at this terrible transfer.
It’s a touching, powerful film from a visual artist who uses both the script and his images to tell a provocative story, not to mention that it helped open the door for Chinese cinema to the world. We have a great time looking at it and discussing Ju Dou on this week’s show. Check it out!
- Watch this film: YouTube
- Script Transcript
- Original theatrical trailer
- Original poster artwork
- Fu xi fu xi by Heng Liu (Mandarin)