Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"The Story of Qiu Ju" with Li Gong and Kesheng Lei (1992) Subtitled

This film, based on the novel "The Wans Family Lawsuit" by Chen Yuan Bin, is the story of Qiu Ju, a pregnant Chinese woman, played by Li Gong, whose husband, Qinglai, is kicked and humiliated by the local Village Chief Wang Shantang, played by Kesheng Lei. In actuality, Qinglai really started the fight when he ridiculed Wang for only having 4 girls and no sons. This questions Wang’s virility, and so he responds with a resounding kick to Quiling's groin. When confronted by Qiu Ju over this assault, Wang ridicules her for having to come to the aid of her husband.

Qiu Ju then takes her case to a local party Official, Officer Li, who suggests a monetary settlement to cover Qinglai's medical expenses. Wang then throws some cash at her, telling her that for every piece of cash she picks up, she bows to his superiority. Incensed, she begins her quest for justice.

The film is set in China, just on the verge of the Cultural Revolution in 1966. Seeking re-dress for her husband’s humiliation, she takes her case from court to court, appealing each verdict of Not Guilty against Wang. As the appeals mount, taking Qiu Ju from her small country village to larger and larger cities for the trials, the penalty for the loser mounts in severity, until an ultimate climax occurs, one with swift and irrevocable consequences for all involved.

During the time in which these trials are taking place, China is rocked by Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution. All public institutions are closed, or overtaken by youth cadres of the Red Guard, who systematically destroy everything they are in disagreement with. This solidifies Mao's hold on the country, as purge after purge dislodges all semblance of order. Wang, although a gruff and uneducated man, is not without compassion. In one of the most telling scenes in the movie he is called upon to use the only motorized vehicle in the village in order to save the life of Qiu Ju's baby. The viewer begins to see beyond his outward gruffness, as does Qiu Ju, but the wheels of justice are in motion and nothing will stop the case against the Village Chief.

One of the finer aspects of this film is that it takes place right at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, giving the viewer a lesson in Chinese history that will linger on long after the film has ended. The lesson imparted by this film is one about compromise. When both sides refuse to back down, tragedy can be the only outcome.

Filmmaker Zhang Yimou really outdid himself on this epic film. He is the Chinese born director who supposedly sold his own blood to buy his first camera. With this film he created a statement about compromise, and the consequences of refusing to meet one another somewhere in the middle.

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