The Wooden Man's Bride
1994, NR, 114 min. Directed by Huang Jianxin. Starring Chang Shih, Wang Lan, Ku Paoming, Wang Yumel, Wang Full, Kao Mingjun.
REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., Oct. 25, 1996
What would you do if you were forced to marry a jarful of ashes? That's the surreal predicament faced by the beleaguered heroine of The Wooden Man's Bride after her husband-to-be -- in a scene more unintentionally funny than tragic -- expires explosively in an unfortunate incident involving a shaky sawhorse and an out-of-reach basket of gunpowder. Much like another Mainland import, the popular and widely praised Ju Dou, The Wooden Man's Bride focuses on the hardships faced by a beautiful Chinese woman while coping with her homeland's traditional marriage customs, which, in this case, require that she devote her life to the aforementioned wooden jar, which has been carved into the shape of a man, hence the title. Being more or less imprisoned by her borderline-psychotic mother-in-law and under constant supervision by the house staff, only her friendship with Kui, a young commoner who once saved her life, brings her any peace. But when their repressed passions ignite and they become more than friends, their “affair” brings about dire consequences for the both of them. The cinematography, editing, and music score are all first-rate, and the performances are refreshingly quiet and dignified, but Huang Jianxin's direction is somewhat uneven and way too humorless, although he does manage to create a poetic, mesmerizing atmosphere throughout the length of this splendid-looking picture. All in all, The Wooden Man's Bride is an effective romantic melodrama as well as a solid piece of filmmaking, even if, given the darkly satirical possibilities suggested by the bizarre subject matter, it takes itself a little too seriously for its own good.