Film review: Ju Dou

Published: Monday, Jan. 27 1992 12:00 a.m. MST

"Ju Dou" is notorious for being controversial in its native country.

The only Chinese film ever nominated for an Academy Award, "Ju Dou" was denounced by the government, which saw it as a none-too-subtle jab at the "old men" who run the country in its portrayal of an abusive dye-mill owner who treats the wife he has purchased, as he puts it himself, "like an animal."

China's elder statesmen were probably also not too thrilled with the title character, "Ju Dou," the wife who becomes more tempestuous, aggressive and obstinate as the years pass, an obvious reaction to the oppression women have suffered in Chinese society.

In the film, Ju Dou falls in love with her husband's mild-mannered nephew Tianqing, they begin an affair and when she bears a child, everyone thinks it's her husband's - including her husband - but Ju Dou and Tianqing know the truth.

Years pass and the old man is crippled in an accident - and years later dies in another accident. Ju Dou mistakenly thinks these events will make life easier for her, but in fact it's quite the opposite. Oh, what a tangled web we weave. . . .

What makes "Ju Dou" work so well is not so much the story itself, although the location, time and characters work in its favor, but the stylish direction that brings out the emotions of the characters in subtle ways, especially in its use of the factory, with its pools of dyes and hanging fabrics. And the performances, all impressive, but particularly Gong Li in the title role and Li Baotian as the nephew.

"Ju Dou" is an emotionally fulfilling and viscerally rewarding adult film, rated PG-13 for violence, sex and profanity.