In Mandarin & Shanghainese with English and Chinese
Director: Hou Yong
Starring: Zhang Ziyi, Joan Chen, Jiang Wen
RunTime: 2 hrs 9 mins
Released By: Festive Films
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
(Excellent sets, costumes and a seamlessly integrated storyline
makes this movie truly a Zhang
by Stefan Shih