Reviewed by: ewaffle
Summary: Gong Li takes the train
Watching Zhou Yus Train one would think that train travel in the Peoples Republic of China is a relaxed, enjoyable experience with clean, well maintained and uncrowded passenger cars staffed by polite and helpful railway employees. Another impression would be of unpolluted and prosperous rural areas filled with productive farms and dotted with the occasional factory. In the universe Sun Zhou created factories are filled with light and air, work takes place at a human pace and workers are given the freedom to explore their creativity in producing goods. Additionally the area around Chongyang, the city in which Chen Ching lives and to which Zhou Yu journeys twice a week is surrounded by verdant, unspoiled nature. According to a review in Variety the urban scenes were shot in Chongqing which and article in The Guardian says was the fastest growing urban center in the world in 2007 and is the nearest city to the Three Gorges Dam project which is either the greatest engineering feat of the century or the worst environmental disasteror possibly both. Clearly Sun Zhou didnt want any difficulty with the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television regarding censorship.
Reviewer Score: 4
This minutia occurred to me because once one gets beyond how beautiful this movie looks and sounds there isnt much else to engage ones interest. It does look great, of course, since Gong Li is onscreen for much its running time while Sun Zhou and Wong Yuk, his cinematographer, have a painterly eye for light and shadow. The exterior shots in the countryside are Barry Lyndonesque in their beauty. However very little happens in Zhou Yus Train and what does happen is annoyingly ambiguous. Not that there is anything wrong with ambiguity in itself, of coursewithout it we would be missing about 99% of the poetry ever written, for examplebut we must care about the characters and what happens to them for it to work. Otherwise, as is the case here, it simply seems careless and self-indulgent, showing that the director isnt committed to the film and has little respect for its audience.
Zhou Yu, a painter of designs on pottery in a rural factory, meets and falls in love with Chen Ching, an aspiring poet who makes his living as the live-in caretaker of a disused library. For a less sensitive soul she would be the ideal girlfriend: she shows up twice a week to cook dinner and make love, leaves without being asked and thinks his poetry is great. She doesnt mind her twice weekly, multi-hour journey to get there and tells him that he neednt bother coming to see her. All of this could easily make sensein centuries past women swooned over poets the way they do over rock guitarists these daysbut we dont know and never find out enough about Zhou to help us make the connection. And as the movie goes on she becomes less real until at the end it seems that she may have been a fantasy of Chen Ching. Or she may have been a fantasy of Xiu, also played by Gong Li, who is either Chen Chings current girlfriend, replacing the departed Zhou or has been in a relationship with him all along and who has whiled away the long hours on the trips to Tibet (!) with a convoluted fantasy involving her lover and an enigmatic, artistic woman who looks just like her but with longer hair. Or she may have been killed in a tragic bus accident, a scene which explains an otherwise incomprehensible image from the beginning of the movie, one which wasnt that interesting in the first place.
The extent to which the last couple of sentences make sense may be a rough guide to how much you will enjoy or perhaps understand the plot and characterization of this movie. The acting is nothing special, largely because the actors arent given much to work with. The score is terrific-- Umebayashi Shigeru has a sure hand with lush, romantic but contained music. She shots of trains crossing bridges, coming out of tunnels or entering a long section of curved track at night, led by a single headlight, are stunning. The mise en scene is beyond reproacha shot of many-arched stone bridge with the light hitting it perfectly was breathtaking. It is clear that the Ministry of Railways was cooperative in filming.
There are two extremely tame (no more than PG rated in Hollywood terms) sex scenes. One of them, between Zhou and Chen is intercut with shots of trainsthe meaning, if any, of this escapes me. Gong Li, as always, looks like a goddess. She was almost always costumed in a dress with a short sweater worn over the top of the dress when she was Zhou and in denim jeans and jacketand with short hairas Xiu.
A great looking movie with very little content