Zhou Yu’s Train
Director Sun Zhou’s second collaboration with Gong Li after Breaking The Silence, a drama about a aspiring poet, a ceramic artist and a vet is not unlike a love poem itself – beautiful, fleeting and sometimes a little flowery…
Those expecting an erotic drama from the lead of Raise the Red Lantern and Story of Oiu Ju on the basis of the highly charged cover artwork will be sorely disappointed. Though this may be one of Gong Li’s most most sensual roles, this is more reminiscent of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love. Beautiful, fleeting and sometimes flowery, it’s an impressive successor to director Sun Zhou’s previous work with Li, Breaking The Silence, though very different.
At a chance meeting with Zhou Yu (Gong Li), an extremely timid librarian and aspiring poet Chen Qing (Tony Leung Ka-fai, Ashes Of Time, Actress, Island of Greed) hands her a poem and quickly leaves. Intrigued by such a timid approach, and such a beautiful verse, Zhou tracks its writer down. So begins a passionate affair, with Zhou travelling a long train ride every week to be with him, yet never getting past his shyness.
Then on the train Zhou meets Zhang Qiang (Sun Honglei, The Road Home), a brash local vet who could not be more different to Chen. Exuding confidence he has every intention of pursuing her until she gives in. When Chen’s job takes him to Tibet, Zhou’s friendship with Zhang blossoms into much more, and she must decide who she really wants to be with…
Like much of Wong Kar-wai’s work, Zhou Yu’s tale unravels in snatches, beautiful yet non-linear in form, but without out the resonance of say In the Mood for Love. Different to Breaking The Silence in style and content, Zhou Yu leaves behind the more handheld, documentary style for stunning and far more considered cinematography.
The character of Zhou Yu is a refreshing change from how women have previously been portrayed in Chinese movies. Sexually forward if not almost predatory, unusual for anything other than concubines or prostitute. (Both of which Gong Li has previously played.) Like it’s predecessor the acting is again superb all round.
The films only drawback comes from Gong Li’s second appearance as the story’s narrator, sporting shortly cropped hair. A clumsy device that only succeeds in confusing the viewer. Forced elements jar with the whole, and seem only present in order to attempt a satisfying conclusion. Like it had not been thought out well enough, or was hurriedly and haphazardly changed.
Overall, though, this is still an impressive work. Full of unspoken feelings, missed opportunities and, yes, literally missed trains – it’s a maturely told love story for the romantic in all of us.
Just don’t take the bus…
Distributor: Megastar (Hong Kong)
Perfect transfer of the film in audio and video, but no real extras.