Jin-Shan bought Ju Dou as a wife and that means he can do whatever he wants to her without anyone being able to say anything about it. Unable to impregnate her, Jin-Shan mistreats her in such a gruesome manner that she thinks, like her two predecessors, who eventually succumbed to the abuse, she will not have long to live. Tian-Qing, Jin Shan’s cousin, is unmarried. His uncle refuses to buy him a wife, even though he is nearly forty. For want of anything better, he spies on his beautiful aunt as she bathes and sees her injuries. However, he cannot do much against his uncle, his position is hardly better than that of a slave.
Ju Dou and Tian-Qing spend one night alone in the dyehouse and seek solace from each other. Ju Dou becomes pregnant and Jin Shan is overjoyed with the son she bears him. Ju Dou, however, assures Tian-Qing that she has figured it out and that he is definitely the father, but of course no one should know. It could result in their death. When Jin-Shan becomes incapacitated, Ju Dou and Tian-Qing pay him for all the indignities he has suffered by playing to the outside world as the devoted cousin and wife, but being openly lovers indoors and forming a family with their son. But the small, curious Tian-Bai (Zhang) is a potential danger to their discretion, and as a teenager (Ji-an Zheng) inherits Jin-Shan’s dyeing work, complicating the situation for his parents.
As in “Red Sorghum” (1987), the viewer is treated to dazzling images with brilliant colors. The textile dyeing industry naturally offers every opportunity here with the many strips of silk that hang to dry from the roof to the ground and the intensive, but also very photogenic work that is required to complete the entire work process. The drama is also heavily turned on, but very interesting because several times the position of power is transferred to another character. It is thrilling to see how these changes of fate are dealt with, both by the person who has control over others and the person who has to accept a situation as an inescapable fact.
“Ju Dou” is a tragic but fascinating story about lost lives and what you could possibly have changed about it. Ju Dou will repeatedly give her life a new direction, but Tian Qing trapped in social conventions. He would rather linger in his hopeless existence than give people cause to gossip about them. And running away with Ju Dou and their son is completely beyond his imagination. A shame, but it does deliver a beautiful story that has been portrayed unparalleled. Gong Li’s emphatic licking of chopsticks to seduce Tian-Qing is one of the most erotic overtures ever without even a glimmer of nakedness. Very nice.