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Thursday, May 29, 2008


Zhang Yimou ’s third pic hasn’t aged as gracefully as you may have expected. This rigorously controlled look at the disastrous consequences that ensue when a rich lord takes on a fourth wife (Gong Li), tries to be both a startling window into a lost society and a condemnation of it. Yet it comes off as merely voyeuristic and misogynist as each of the wives tend scrupulously to their character flaws, mutual deceit & petty jealousies. After a while, the lord (whom you never get a good look at), his mistresses & the house staff all seem to deserve each other. (No doubt the point, but still . . . ) What does holds up is the physical grace of the formal camera set ups. (Too bad that Zhang doesn't rigorously hold to the style, copping out with pans & track at the big histrionic extremes just when he needs to be particularly rigorous.) The film is also worth a look just to see the great mansion/estate with its discrete units which are best observed in dream-like walks over the rooftop at night.

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