Mission Impossible – Rediscovering ‘The Story of Qiu Ju’ (China 1992 – 100 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - November 08, 2015
Mission Impossible – Rediscovering ‘The Story of Qiu Ju’ (China 1992 – 100 mins)

A gripping drama of one person’s dogged determination in the pursuit of justice, the excellent Chinese picture ‘The Story of Qiu Ju’ may have an absurd synopsis, but it’s very easy to follow, and the plot could not be simpler.

When her labourer husband is kicked in the groin by the village leader (after a verbal misunderstanding), his heavily pregnant wife seeks an apology from the local Government. With no help locally, she journey’s to the city where she tries to beat the red tape of various bureaucratic establishments. From district to city offices, and then to the courts, Qiu Ju stubbornly refuses to quit, in her rigid quest for reparation.

With touches of comedy interwoven into the plot, ‘The Story of Qiu Ju’ is a straightforward yet authentic tale, filled with simplistic though entertaining scenes. These include a bumpy and awkward bike ride the heavily pregnant Qiu Ju accepts, to the ludicrous looking jacket she buys just to blend in with the city folks.

With her layers of winter clothes and no make-up, famed Li Gong looked unrecognisable as the poor Qiu Ju, and gave one of her most memorable performances. A stylish beauty, Li had mostly played elegant characters in more sumptuous productions such as ‘Farewell My Concubine’ (’93) and ‘Shanghai Triad’ (’95), but here she relies mainly on facial reactions as well as her character’s uneducated naivety, in portraying the heavily pregnant peasant.

Director Yimou Zhang has made a number of now-classic dramas over the years, often starring his muse Gong Li. From small and intimate drama’s (‘Not One Less’ and ’The Road Home’ – both ’99) to sweeping epics (‘Raise the Red Lantern’ -’91, and ‘To Live’ -’94), Yimou always injected his movies with colourful touches and the theme of family loyalty. He later had huge international success with his stunning and colourful adventures; ‘Hero’ (’02) and ‘House of Flying Daggers’ (’04), before reuniting with Li Gong for 2006’s ‘Curse of the Golden Flower’.

While the movie has you rooting for the ‘little man’ you do sometimes think that maybe Qiu Ju should just give up, especially as she stubbornly uses her families resources in her pursuit of receiving the right apology. At the same time, after witnessing the slow process of the justice system you can understand why she won’t give up, or lose her dignity.

I think ‘The Story of Qiu Ju’ is a forgotten classic that really needs (as do a lot of other Yimou-Li collaborations) rediscovering. It’s a superlative human drama which, as well as showing us the cultural differences between village and city life in modern China, shows how the government controls practically every facet of its people’s lives. So in the end, this only reinforces our view that (for better or worse) perhaps Qiu Ju is taking the correct action after all.

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