Judge Barrie Maxwell thinks this film is as beautiful as its star, Gong Li, but falls short of being entertaining.
"A woman torn between a man and a memory."
Zhou Yu's Train tells the story of Zhou Yu, who paints pottery for a living. We become acquainted with her as she travels by train from the village where she works to the city, where she visits her boyfriend, a poet named Chen Qing. As she makes these trips, she starts to run into a young veterinarian named Zhang Qiang, who also travels on the train regularly. Initially she rejects his obvious interest in her, but she eventually she is worn down by his persistence. Her growing attraction to Zhang forces her to question her involvement with Chen Qing—is her interest in the self-absorbed man himself or merely his art?
Complicating this apparently straightforward love triangle is another character, Xiu, who appears to be a younger version of Zhou Yu doing…what? Narrating, performing as a Greek chorus, or just providing an opportunity to give extra screen time to the film's star? The introduction of this character, along with an already convoluted presentation of the plot, causes the film's downfall, with the second Zhou Yu character seeming more pretentious than anything else, despite an unconvincing effort to clarify things at the end.
Regardless of the film's narrative failure, there's no denying that it's a very attractive-looking experience. Director Sun Zhou's compositions are poetic in themselves, utilizing a variety of camera techniques to caress the images of the trains and the countryside (although there are a few too many shots of the overused metaphor of trains going into and out of tunnels).
The other attractive-looking experience is provided by the beauty of star Gong Li (The Emperor and the Assassin, Chinese Box, Farewell My Concubine) who plays Zhou Yu and Xiu. Unfortunately, she seems to handle her dual role with some detachment, so that Zhou Yu comes across as being rather cold. That may have been intentional, but it serves to distance the audience from the character; and with the film's already complicated structure, it's a further distancing that isn't needed.
Columbia presents the film on DVD with a 1.85:1 anamorphic image. It looks very sharp and clean with deep blacks, crisp whites and reasonable shadow detail. Colors are bright and accurate. Unfortunately, edge effects are obtrusive at times, somewhat compromising the beauty of some of the film's outdoor images. The Chinese 5.1 audio track is very nice with some effective, though subtle, use of the surrounds, particularly during shots of trains in motion. The film's fine music score has very good presence and fidelity. English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles are also provided. The supplements consist of four trailers (Zhou Yu's Train, Beijing Bicycle, Bon Voyage, and The Road Home).
A DVD presentation by Columbia that capitalizes (for the most part) on the attractive look of Zhou Yu's Train is not sufficient to compensate for the film's complicated narrative structure and ultimate air of pretention. This is one to take a pass on.
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