Having already seduced a burgeoning international audience with Raise The Red Lantern and The Story Of Qui Ju, Zhang Yimou's latest offering is a riveting, evocative and highly personal examination of the social and political history of 20th Century China.
Adapted from Yu Hua's novel, and joint winner of the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival, the movie traces China's transformation from the careless hedonism of the early 40s to the Civil War, Communism and the Cultural Revolution. Following the loss of his family's fortune at a local gambling den, Fugui (You) and his wife Jiazhen (Li) are separated when Fugui is drafted into the Nationalist Army. Having survived the death of their son and daughter, they spend the remainder of their days caring for their orphaned grandson.
Deliberately avoiding the lush, painterly vision of fellow countryman Chen Kaige - Yimou lends a welcome simplicity to a subject which could easily be lost among the social and political details of Chinese life. Firmly grounded in reality by virtue of the stunning central performances of longtime Yimou collaborators Li and You, the film is an intriguing combination of resigned acceptance and raging resentment at the rigidly oppressive Chinese authorities.
Providing an absorbing meditation on familial relationships set against a unique backdrop, this manages to elaborate upon its central theme of the human cost of political upheaval with an engaging blend of intimacy, humour and genuine emotional substance.