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  Publicity Stills of "Jasmine Women"
(Courtesy from Festive Films)

In Mandarin & Shanghainese with English and Chinese subtitles
Director: Hou Yong
Starring: Zhang Ziyi, Joan Chen, Jiang Wen
RunTime: 2 hrs 9 mins
Released By: Festive Films
Rating: PG
Official Website: http://www.festivefilms.com/jasminewomen

Opening Day: 4 May 2006


Starring Zhang Ziyi (Memoirs of a Geisha, 2046), Joan Chen (Red Rose White Rose, The Last Emperor) and Jiang Wen (Warriors of Heaven and Earth), Jasmine Women tells the story of one family's struggle to overcome its tragic history, as each daughter repeats the mistakes of her mother. Veteran cinematographer and first-time director Hou Yong (Cinematographer of Zhang Yimou's "The Road Home" and Tian Zhuang Zhuang's "The Blue Kite") sets his film in the 1930's, 50's and 80's against the backdrop of an ever-changing Shanghai. The film is all the more remarkable for the fact that Zhang Ziyi plays three roles. Zhang Ziyi plays the young Mo, the young Li and Hua. Chen plays two characters: Mo's mother, the older Mo (mother and grandmother stage).

Movie Review:

Once in a while, there comes along a movie in an actor's career that will probably serve as a showreel of what he or she is capable of achieving. In my opinion, of all the movies Zhang Ziyi did so far, from her breakthrough role as a swordswoman in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, which led to more similar roles in Hero and House of Flying Daggers, to Hollywood movies like Rush Hour 2 and Memoirs of a Geisha, Jasmine Women allowed her to tackle diverse roles within the same movie. Despite having starred opposite some of Asian's biggest actors like Jackie Chan, Andy Lau, Jet Li and Tony Leung, this movie has none of the big named co-stars to distract the audience from giving her full attention.

Jasmine Women is a wonderful story about the life of Mo, who anchors the movie, although being played by 2 different leads (Joan Chen in a supporting role, playing the much older version of the Women). But it's not all only about Mo, but about three generations of a mostly single woman/parent family spanning 3 generations. Told logically in 3 chapters, aptly (and simply) titled "Grandmother", "Mother" and "Daughter", the three central female characters have names which aptly spells out Mo Li Hua (in Mandarin, meaning Jasmine, hence the title of the movie). While this movie might sound similar to Three Times now showing at the Picturehouse (ok, so it's Taiwan, and have 2 leads playing different characters too), this movie boasts of a more integrated storyline.

With three generations come three very different settings as we witness China undergoing vast changes in the span of 50 years. The use of colour also distinguished between the eras, which was beautifully done, and romanticized each era appropriately. For the 1930s decadent Shanghai, Envious Green was used, as we see Mo's meteoric rise to prominence as an actress,
albeit with the usual showbusiness help from a sugar daddy. Hard Orangy-Red was used for the 50s as Communisim was sweeping through China, to reflect the workers' hardship of the era, as we see Mo's daughter Li battling her inner demons. The last segment was mostly in Cool Steely Blue, demonstrating the resolve of the final character Hua as she comes full circle.

Central to the story is the usual tale of romance, and the Women, in summary, happened to be truly unlucky in their love lives. Since this is essentially a "woman's" story, it was of no surprise that the men in their life, turn out to be cads of sorts. Watching this movie is akin to watching a "groundhog era of romance", where the characters seem to be guided by an invisible hand in making similar mistakes as their parents did. Fret not though, this is not an outright arthouse flick which in the hands of the incapable, will easily turn into a bore.

The family's photo studio home which served as residence of the Women, somehow became a refuge of sorts. This is a key set of the movie, as I suspect that given a relatively low production budget, we do not see much of Old or Communist Shanghai, except for some changes to the main street in which the photo studio is built on. However, the costumes in the different eras more than made it up, with slinky cheongsams of Old Shanghai, to the rigid togs of the 50s, to the retro 80s look. The hairstyles too did wonders in bringing to life, that era's signature look.

Zhang Ziyi was excellent in her roles, as if they were all tailor made in challenging her to demonstrate her acting range. From wide eyed ingénue, to mature knowing woman, from being psychologically and medically ill to strong modern woman, she delivered with aplomb, and there are plenty of closeups to satisfy fans of her pretty face. With the help of costuming and hairstyling, she became like a chameleon, adapting and blending with the era, providing her characters with the essential difference and nuance to distinguish them.

But Joan Chen nearly stole the show and upstaged Ziyi with her portrayal as the more worldly, wiser and matured senior roles. Last seen in local screens in Saving Face, she plays the parent to her daughters, dispensing unwanted advice spawned from experience gained in the younger days, suspiciously aware of what Fate will bring to her daughters, while reminiscing the good old days at the same time.

I would have thoroughly enjoyed the movie if it had been released here back in 2004, but having seen Zhang Ziyi progress through a few more movies, and her haughty-to-humble role in 2046 somewhat resembled a combination of the characters here, it sort of provided you with a "been there, seen that" feel, which is a pity. Also, the final 10 minutes seemed to drag a little with a pillow being quite distractive. Nonetheless, take heart, this is a visually appealing movie, and provides you with some broad clues to how life was generally like during those timelines. Same
city, many changes, but complications from affairs of the heart, always seem to be that non-changing constant.

Movie Rating:

(Excellent sets, costumes and a seamlessly integrated storyline makes this movie truly a Zhang
Ziyi showcase)

Review by Stefan Shih


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