Ju Dou. 1990. China/Japan. Directed by Zhang Yimou and Yang Fengliang. With Gong Li, Li Baotian. DCP. In Mandarin; English subtitles. 95 min.
The iconic Gong Li, in her third Zhang Yimou film, shines in the title role of a mill owner’s young wife who is subjected to daily abuse. Bonding with her husband’s unmarried nephew, Ju Dou finds a path to liberation. Along with Red Sorghum (1987) and Raise the Red Lantern (1991), the actor-director duo’s other early collaborations, Ju Dou foregrounds female sexuality and desire like nothing seen in Chinese cinema before. The stunning, seductive imagery catapulted the two to international stardom. While Yang Fengliang shares the directing credit, this sensational work is often seen as Zhang’s solo work. A photographer-turned-cinematographer-turned-director, Zhang demonstrates his immense gift in using color, composition, light, and mise-en-scène to tell tales with great dramatic and symbolic depth.