A review of “Zhou Yu's Train” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: **

Rating: PG-13 for adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. In Mandarin with English subtitles



Gong Li (Raise the Red Lantern) graces the silver screen as a moody porcelain painter whose affair with a struggling poet awakens her quiescent desires.

Li is in quintessential form as impulsive artist Zhou Yu, whose fledgling romance isn’t developing according to plan.  Traveling to distant Chongyang twice a week to call on the reclusive Chin Cheng (Tony Leung Ka Fai), Zhou Yu feels subtly alienated at her failure to break through Cheng’s deep reserve.

While Cheng makes tentative plans to take a position in faraway Tibet, Zhou Yu continues to hold fast to the dwindling affair, refusing to acknowledge that there’s trouble in paradise.  Filling the emotional void is wry veterinarian Zhang Qiang (Sun Honglei), who spots an opening but can’t crack the barrier of Zhou Yu’s stubborn heart.

Zhou Yu’s Train is ambitious in the extreme, relying on sumptuous images and an abstract narrative to convey love in its rawest form. Cheng’s romantic meditations (“I saw you in a dream dancing in a pool of swirling bubbles, slowly consuming me, consuming the night…”) are pretentiously effusive and not in keeping with its author’s painfully distant manner.

The film’s most glaring flaw lands at the feet of the luminous Li, one of the world’s great beauties who continues to stake her career on tragic and fruitless heroines. (Get this girl a romantic comedy!) Li’s Zhou Yu is difficult and unlikable, refusing to stop and smell the roses and bitterly clinging to the past.

At turns evocatively elliptical and artistically manipulative, this ode to self-discovery is visually stunning but altogether too exasperating.