Unique, but flawed
Starring: Gong Li, Liu Peiqi, Lei Kesheng
Director: Zhang Yimou
Running Time: 100 mins
The Story Of Qiu Ju is a Chinese film about a pregnant peasant woman who seeks justice after the village chief kicks her husband in the groin, finding herself at higher and higher levels of maddening bureaucracy as she travels from her small town to the big city.
The word to describe this film: different. It’s billed as a comedy-drama, which seems strange enough from the likes of Gong Li and Zhang Yimou, however it has a very distinctly earthy, almost documentary-esque style to it that makes it indeed unique, but in part contributes to its failings.
Let’s start on the bright side though, with that unique style. Through many of his movies in the late 80s and early 90s, Zhang has always been highly skilled when it comes to portraying the daily trials and tribulations of normal Chinese people, across a whole range of time periods.
The Story Of Qiu Ju, on the other hand, goes to another level, not only portraying what ordinary Chinese people’s lives are like, but actively showing them. While the story is generally fictional, and the film isn’t a documentary, it does largely consist of a fictional story being played out in real China, as Zhang uses actual hidden cameras to shoot many of the scenes in the midst of the real China.
Now, this has two major effects: one excellent, and one not so excellent. On the plus side, it gives the film a very earthy and convincing atmosphere, which really works to the story’s benefit in showing how frustrating a situation like Qiu Ju’s can really be.
Furthermore, the real-world nature of the film reemphasises how good an actress Gong Li is. Her most famous roles may be as a stronger and more ruthless character in the likes of Raise The Red Lantern and Farewell My Concubine, however here she manages to evoke the same strength, yet from a much poorer and physically weaker character. Her portrayal of the waddling pregnant Qiu Ju shows her physical range, but the fact that she still manages to make her character such a strong presence in the middle of the bustling and often chaotic real-world scenes is hugely impressive.
However, the film also really falls down because of Zhang’s unique style, simply because it’s not that easy a film to watch.
For one, there are periods of the film where we get relatively little development on the story of Qiu Ju’s frustrating quest for justice, and instead witness much more drawn-out and far less riveting scenes of days in the life in China. Yes, it’s a unique and often effective technique, but too often does the film just get a little overindulgent in that regard, and as such fails to keep your interest 100% of the time.
Also, there are times when it’s a little difficult to actually hear what’s going on. You’ll likely watch this film with foreign language subtitles, but that still doesn’t mean you can have often unintelligible dialogue, as it really takes away from the emotional core of the story, and as such doesn’t help when it comes to being a genuinely engrossing film.
On the whole, The Story Of Qiu Ju was a bit of a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, it’s a very unique and clearly passionately-made film, also featuring another great performance from Gong Li, however its style is part of its downfall, making for an often less-than-enthralling watch that’s often obstructed by the real-world setting, and that’s why I’m giving it a 6.8.