The Story of Qiu Ju
1992, PG, 100 min. Directed by Zhang Yimou. Starring Gong Li, Lei Lao Sheng, Liu Pei Qi, Ge Zhi Jun, Yang Liu Chun.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 23, 1993
Anyone ever caught in the wheels of bureaucracy will relate to Chinese director Zhang Yimou's latest movie. Though a story about contemporary peasant life in China, The Story of Qiu Ju is one that transcends borders, languages and class differences. It tells the story of Qui Ju (Gong Li, the star of all of Zhang Yimou's movies) who searches for justice and an official answer for a wrong done to her husband. Her problem gets so tangled and obscured in the civil bureaucracy that it becomes transformed into a wholly new beast. The pregnant Qui Ju seeks an apology and explanation for his actions from the village chief who kicked her husband in the groin. First she goes to the village chief himself for redress. When he rebuffs her entreaties, she continues to take it higher -- to the district chief, the town government, the civil courts,... to wherever each of them tells her to appeal next. Every step of the way takes Qui Ju a little farther from home and lends her comically quixotic quest for answers a strong current of dignity. After a very long time, the wheels of justice finally spin in her direction but, unfortunately, by then Qui Ju and the village chief have already made their own peace with the situation and it's too late to stop the relentless onslaught of blind justice. But for the ambiguous ending and the comic touches throughout, The Story of Qui Ju could be mistaken for one of those socialist propaganda films of the Cultural Revolution in which a young heroine from the provinces leads her people to do the right thing. Also, director Zhang's camerawork here has a more off-the-cuff feel. The camera mingles eye-level amongst Zhang's characters and, oftentimes, remains hidden during the city street scenes, giving a spontaneous and natural look to the surroundings. Zhang's camerawork and storytelling strategies are decidedly different than in his two previous international successes, Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern. With Qui Ju, he sets the story in contemporary times and uses comedy rather than family melodrama for his narrative structure, Qui Ju will also appear drab to those expecting the saturated color and vibrant visual strategies of his earlier works. Though his more modest stylistic choices are perfectly appropriate for the story he is telling here, his more dashing sensibilities may be missed by some. In that case, they should pay special attention to the film's incredible opening shot as the hidden camera surveys the city street teeming with people until it selects to rest its gaze on Qui Ju herself - Qiu Ju who shows us that answers only come through asking questions, that the law is not always the same thing as justice and that human dignity is something worth tenaciously protecting.