Hong Kong, 1995
Reviewed by Shelly Kraicer at the 1995 Toronto International Film Festival
Perhaps the struggling-woman-bearing-China's-fate genre is finally running out of steam.
Maiden Rose has a particularly confusing provenance: a Hong Kong production, filmed on the mainland (in Shaoxing) in Mandarin, by a director who lives in the US.
A film about 3 generations of Chinese women, set in 3 periods: the 30's, 60's, and 90's. "Maiden Rose" (with an accent on the final "e") is a traditional wine prepared in the Shaoxing area. Sealed when a girl is born, it is to be opened only on her wedding day. Here we have the film's dominant symbol, and the key to its plot. The jar of wine, prepared for Huadiao by her father, passes to her daughter Qiumei when Huadiao falls in love with the wrong man. Qiumei, victimized by the Cultural Revolution, refuses the wine. Finally, in the money-mad 90's, Qiumei's daughter Chen Fei inherits it. But she subjects it to a degrading, particularly capitalist fate.
We've seen all these elements before, though, in fresher and more striking combinations, all the way from Zhang Yimou to The Joy Luck Club. The screenplay unfolds predictably, along the well-worn path of Chinese film melodrama. Xie Yang deploys his camera rather straightforwardly in short, simply composed shots that seem a little too reminiscent of the style of his father (the great Chinese director Xie Jin).
But perhaps I'm being a bit unfair: Xie Yang has set out to entertain, and he succeeds. The movie contains some good performances (Josephine Ko's evocative, introverted Qiumei), and one splendid one: Gua Ah-leh as the matriarch Huadiao. She finds all the depth, humour, dignity and power that this role can contain: an unforgettable performance.
The strongest part of Maiden Rose is at its centre: the destructive effect of the Cultural Revolution on one family. Xie Yang explained afterwards that these scenes were partly based on his own family history. His success in this section makes me look forward to the day when he will be able to film the semi-autobiographical screenplay about those years that he has already prepared.
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all content © 1996-2002 Shelly Kraicer