A dark, sensual, and visually sumptuous drama, Ju Dou centers on the title character, the third wife of a wealthy silk dyer in 1920s China. Forced into marriage by poverty, Ju Dou is repeatedly mistreated and cruelly disciplined by her husband, Jin-shan, for failing to bear him an heir. Her suffering attracts the sympathy of Jin-shan's younger, kinder nephew, Tian-qing, and the two begin a secret affair that could have tragic consequences. Spanning the course of many years, the film's narrative takes several surprising turns, defying expectations and complicating audience sympathies. None of the film's characters is wholly heroic or evil, allowing all three central performers -- Li Bao-tian as Tian-qing, Li Wei as Jin-shan, and the luminous Gong Li as Ju Dou -- to fashion memorable, complex portrayals. Director Zhang Yimou, a former cinematographer, uses gorgeously saturated images that emphasize his story's elemental nature, which often recalls classical tragedy. Met with controversy in China due to supposed political overtones that worried government officials, Ju Dou received fairer treatment overseas, winning an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and numerous festival prizes.~ Judd Blaise, All Movie Guide
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