Director: Hou Yong (2006)
Three stories, three times, and one family in Shanghai.
The first story is about Mo, a young woman lives with her single mother. She dreams about becoming a movie star but her mother wants her to take share of their family run photo shop. One day, Mr. Meng, a charming middle age man shows up and asks Mo to work at the movie studio he runs. Mo sees this as the moment she has been waiting for and agrees to take an audition. It turns out she cannot act but with help from Mr. Meng, who only wants her as his new mistress, she becomes a star instantly. Then Mo finds out she is pregnant. Meng does not abundant her and all he wants is to get rid of the baby, which she refuses to do. Soon the Japanese invades the city and Meng runs away, leaving Mo to raise their baby daughter, named Li. The second story is about Li, who is desperate about leaving her mother. Despite Mo's objection, Li marries to Zou, a handsome young man from a working class family. Soon Li discovers she is unable of having babies and has to adopt a baby girl. The third story is about Hua, the adopted daughter of Li. Like her mother, Hua secretly gets married to Du without consulting her grandmother, who has been taken care of her since the death of Li. Du is away in college, which provides a perfect opportunity for him to meet someone else. Soon he asks for a divorce, not knowing Hua is already pregnant with their child.
Directed by cinematographer and second time director Hou Yong and based on Su Tong's novel Women's Life, Jasmine Women is trying to say that women are weak in our society, and whether they get stronger, is largely depends on having the right choices by their own. In each story, a woman wants to leave her mother or grandmother, who is somewhat controlling her life. At a very young age, she starts a relationship with a man, who looks perfect, and then quickly realizes when a relationship or a marriage reaches to a crash end; she is always the one paying for the consequence. In the first story, Mo's mother takes her own life after she caught her boyfriend trying to have an affair with Mo. In the second story, Li is angry about the truth that she is incapable of having babies and her mind eventually crashed. Soon after she drives her husband to commit suicide, Li ends her own life too. In the third story, Hua tricks her husband into bed, for the last time, and tries to open a gas valve at their room. Then at the last moment, she backs away. She decides to let her husband go and raise the baby by her own. It seems that, in the family, a woman can never have a lasting relationship with any man, having a baby is always a wrong step of her life and death is already the only solution. Hua breaks the family curse by taking a positive attitude toward to what has happened, and eventually she gets control of her own destiny.
Jasmine Women is a triumph for two of the greatest Chinese actresses of our time and a celebration for pure acting. Zhang Ziyi plays three characters, Mo, Li and Hua, which is probably the best an actress could ask for and is probably the greatest challenge for an actress as well. She handled her roles very well. Although three characters look somehow similar, I can still see the differences. This film is by far the best showcase of her talent of acting. Joan Chen, who plays Mo's mother and Mo in the second and third stories, is greater than ever this time. Even at her 40s, she still looks gorgeous. Grew up in Shanghai, she knows exactly what a Shanghai woman looks like. When she plays Mo's mother, she even speak perfect Shanghainese most of the time, which is very faithful to her character.
Director Hou Yong is an experienced camera man, whose works include The Horse Thief, The Blue Kite, The Road Home and Not One Less. With costumes, props, sets and lightings, he assigns a unique color to each story. The first story is green, the second story is red and the third story is blue. For most of the time, the camera is focused on characters and the city of Shanghai appears no bigger than a narrow street, basically. Some historical events, like the Japanese invasion in 1937, the "Big Leap Forward" movement in 1958, and the beginning of economic reform in the 1980s, are only shown very briefly.
(MonkeyPeaches via CRI April 26, 2006)