by Jaime Grijalba.
(China, 92 min)
There’s a whole industry, sub-genre. fascination and overall love for epic-period-war-dramas from the land of Asia, specially when we talk about Mainland China, where this is more like the norm than the exception regarding big budget films (regarding exportation, that is, it is rare to see a Chinese romantic comedy or heavy tearjerker or anything that is not blown out of proportion in every way it can show, production wise), at least I think there is, because every other film is a period piece with long costumes and accurate (ha) description of events of a certain era or dinasty of China. I mean, there must be some kind of love or need, a market specialized in these kind of films that at this rate are becoming common place and not as surprising as before. I mean, take the chinese classics from the 90′s that started the craze, continuing down the path with the beautiful wuxia entries and the degeneration that started with what I like to call ‘costume porn’, a film that only is made (apparently, at least) to feature its accurate period setting as well as its lavish costumes and colours. Now, I’m not dissing any specific film, but when it gets into a trend, the bad films start to appear, and that is when a revolution is needed: we either need something to break the mold, something raw and dirty… or we just need to rework other themes and more interesting experiences inside these big budgeted costume epic dramas of war times… and the second is what this film does.
Telling the story of a prostitute turned poet and then wife of an important minister, this film travels through a different kind of journey as most other period costume dramas try to travel. The film itself is a nice surprise when the figure of the woman and its character are strong enough to be protagonists, making the title character, Liu Rushi, one of the few strong females in chinese cinema in the past years. Nevertheless, its still interesting to think that a woman that was a prostitute and that all her life all she wants is to be respected as any other wife is seen as a role model in China… after all, this movie was released on the 8th of March, International Day of Women… but this is China people, and they are Confucianists, it is their culture to have the man first and then the woman. Historically, Liu Rushi is called the most respected prostitute in the history of China, and according to the site ‘Cultural China’ (link = http://history.cultural-china.com/en/48History8118.html): “She showed exemplary values when faced with danger during times when she helped the country. During the Manchurian occupation, she tried to persuade her mate, who was then a respectable Confucian scholar, to commit suicide for the love of country. Unfortunately, the guy refused stating that the water in the middle of the river was too cold. Nevertheless, after her mate’s surrender, she was able to redeem herself from her profession when she was considered as a model of pure morals during the end of the Ming dynasty. (…) also well versed in calligraphy, drawing, and writing poems.” Some of her poetry is made available through dialogue alongside the plot of the film, and I must say that it is the most interesting part of the film.
Alongside the loves, adventures and romances that Liu Rushi lives, starting from the boat of pleasure where she resides as a prostitute, and specially since she buys her freedom out of the hands of the owners of the brothel, we hear and see her write her poetry, that is not your usual known poetry (that means you’ll see no haiku here). Chinese poetry is closer to longer stretches of verses that don’t necesarily rhyme (of course, they don’t rhyme when they are translated, but still…) the goal is to achieve the greatest amount of beautiful verses, and Liu Rushi managed that many times as her life went on, and that is exactly the most interesting part of the whole film: the process of writing, listening and reading poetry, it may be by her or from other not as good poets, but still, most of the film consists of classes on poetry, poetry recitals, poetry parties, poetry contests, that was strangely alluring for me, because of how close it was to the beauty of the chinese language and how easy it seemed to the protagonist to come up with these beautiful verses that condensed the overall feeling of the moment they are living. Nevertheless, even if the total amount of poetry on the screen doesn’t really trascend to the audiovisual part (there’s beauty on the screen, seen, but not in the actual film, and by that I mean beautiful framing or colours, which are barely interesting), but still it is quite daring to have more than half hour of your film consisting of people reading their poems. But it looses whatever interest it could have by falling into the usual tropes of this kind of new genre cinema.
Why there’s a need to have political or war in these films? It could’ve been a better, even a great movie if it stood with its study on chinese poetry… it wouldn’t be a masterpiece, because of the lack of any real film beauty in the way it was made, but still, it would’ve been at least decent. I mean, how many films do we have where the action of reading or creating literature? Very little, and not enough on my opinion, so why does this movie have to throw that out of the window when the movie surpasses the forty minutes? And it is very telling of when do we stop hearing poetry, and I swear that poetry doesn’t become the centerpiece of the action, nevermore, and that is sad, but again, I’m getting distracted… the moment where the poetry doesn’t make another appearance is when she gets married to an important man, as if getting married would shut out all of her creativity. So yeah, nice message movie, don’t create, woman, because you’re married, take all you can while you’re prostitute, you’re still a woman for everyone who can pay the price, there you can be liberal and write your creative liberal poetry, after the sacred bond of marriage you can forget all of that, sister, you might as well kill yourself. So yeah, we are subject to the invasion of the Mongol and how the Ming Dinasty turns to the Qing Dinasty and the troubles for all the chinese people and how betrayal between the characters is what makes up of most of the second half of the film, others would find that more interesting, but not me.
Do I recommend the film? Well, not really, but people can see it if they find the first part interesting enough, as told by me, that is, you can always look for yourself (I’ll leave a link in the comments, the entire film is available to see on youtube) if you want and can (this movie gets really slow and boring during the supposedly less boring and slow parts). But, hell, you might as well suffer a bit with me, brother.