At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Story of Qui Ju (Zhang Yimou, 1992)--Gong Li as a grimy, stoic, overtly pregnant peasant, bundled up against the northern Chinese winter, suffers about as drastic a loss of sexiness as did Cameron Diaz in Being John Malkovich. But no matter; 2046 was a boring movie despite her being all dolled up, and contrariwise she here plays a highly sympathetic character despite her lack of glamour. There's a wry humor in her humble but dogged ascent up the bureaucratic ladder, seeking redress for a mild, indeed comical, injustice suffered by her husband at the hands of the village chief. As in the director's later Not One Less, the character's quest leads her from the sticks to the big city, giving Yimou occasion to compare old and new China, generally to the disadvantage of the latter. The stinger of an ending reinforces this view; the impartial machinery of justice ends up disrupting the web of personal relationships necessary for survival in a small village. The style of the movie is appropriately modest for its social-realist theme, abstaining from the high-flown cinematography and symbolism of Yimou's earlier tragedies and later martial-arts epics. Oh, and the wide-bottomed westerner you see in the Xi'an street scene was a friend of my coworker's, who taught English there. A-