director: Li Shaohong
screenplay: Ni Zhen, Li Shaohong, from the novel by Su Tong
cinematography: Zeng Nianping
editor: Zhou Xinxia
design: Chen Yiyun, Lin Chaoxing
music: Guo Wenjing
producer: Chen Kunming, Jimmy Tan; Cheng Zhigu (exec.)
Ocean Film; Beijing Film Co.
Wang Ji ....Qiuyi
Wang Zhiwen ....Lao Pu
He Saifei ....Xiao'e
Zhang Liwei ....Liu Qing
Wang Rouli ....Mrs. Pu
Song Xiuling ....Rui Feng
Xing Yangchung ....Mr. Zhang
Zhou Jianying ....Mrs. Zhang
Yin Jimei ....Wu Ma
Cao Lei (Narrator).
Reviewed at the 1995 Toronto International Film Festival by Shelly Kraicer
A subtle, exquisitely filmed melodrama that hides a lot beneath its surface. Set immediately after 1949, the story follows two former prostitutes, the older, savvy Qiuyi, and her younger naive "sister" Xiao'e, as they struggle to fit into the "New China". Two problems: in between an engrossing first hour and a stunning final scene, the film can drag a bit: one gets the feeling that too much of the original novel (by Su Tong) was squeezed into 2 hours. And the performances aren't always riveting enough to overcome the weight of the narrative, with two happy exceptions: Wang Ji's powerful performance as Qiuyi, and Wang Zhiwen's enigmatic Lao Pu, the former landlord becomes involved with both women.
Xiao'e's solution to reconstructing herself as a "new Chinese" is socialist-conventional, and ultimately leads nowhere. She goes through Communist reeducation, marries Lao Pu, bears his child, but doesn't grow, can't hold onto any of these. Qiuyi, on the other hand, escapes from the CPC's reindoctrination, chooses the path of traditional Buddhist renunciation, and successfully rebuilds her identity. She suffers a string of losses (miscarriage, lover, family), but is rewarded finally with a substitute for each one of these, and, according to the female narrator, is in the end "content."
What's wonderful about Blush is how it envelopes its narrative in a highly aestheticized style. The cinematography is gracefully, delicately controlled: from the strikingly distant, indirect camera placement (many interior scenes are shot down long hallways, or from the dark, through door frames), to an absolutely superb control of colour. Specifically, the use of yellow, which holds the key to the film's preoccupation with resignation, loss, and renunciation. Yellow is Qiuyi's colour: the walls of the convent she flees to; the tray for her cast off hair; and the umbrella she carries with her (which she identifies as a symbol of separation).
It pays to connect Blush to other recent Chinese films that end with a spirit of Buddhist resignation: Clara Law's Temptation of a Monk (which also employs the shaved-head motif), and Huang Jianxin's Back to back, face to face. And think back to the tradition of principled intellectual resistance by Ming scholars to the Qing conquest, which often involved withdrawl, retreat to Buddhist monasteries.
Blush is a promising start to the 1995 Toronto Film Festival's Asian Horizons series.
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