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Review: Zhou Yu’s Train

This is disaffection for disaffection’s sake, as imagined by a student of Robert James Waller.

Zhou Yu’s Train
Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

Zhou Yu was a Wu Kingdom military strategist who died during the second century…and he has absolutely nothing to do with Zhou Yu’s Train, an emphatically symbolic ode to yearning which operates under the reasonable but miscalculated assumption that two Gong Lis are better than one. The revered Chinese actress stars as Zhou Yu, a painter at a ceramics factory who travels by train to visit her poet lover, Chen Qing (Tony Tony Leung Ka-fai). One day she befriends a veterinarian, Zhang Qiang (Honglei Sun), and a love triangle ensues. Hoping to crack the space and time continuum, director Sun Zhou introduces a fourth character (also played by Li) to supervise the imbroglio from afar. Regardless of whether this mystery character is an older, shorthaired version (or reincarnation) of Zhou Yu or her own separate entity, her presence is strenuous. “I am going to catch the train,” says Zhou Yu. Of course you are. By the time this In the Mood for Love knock-off is over, Zhou Yu has hitched a ride on the film’s train-to-nowhere a good hundred times. Trips to places like Fairy Lake are made and trite maxims and declarations of love (“The blue china is smooth like your skin”) are repeated ad nauseum. For added poetic measure, preposterous slow-mo shots of Zhou Yu running to and from trains (settle down, there will be others) are forcibly scattered throughout. Ditto shots of a girl—ostensibly a younger version of Li’s character(s)—running through train cabins and twirling sheets in and around tracks. The film looks like a dream but means absolutely nothing. Character motivations are sketchy at best, meaning that you’ll be hard pressed to figure out why Zhou Yu can’t choose a happy ending for herself. This is disaffection for disaffection’s sake, as imagined by a student of Robert James Waller.

Cast: Gong Li, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Honglei Sun Director: Sun Zhou Screenwriter: Sun Zhou, Bei Cun, Zhang Mei Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics Running Time: 96 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2002 Buy: Video

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