THINK Review: Jasmine Women (2006)
For a nation that has traditionally prized male offspring, China has an extensive back catalogue of films and literature dedicated to its lost daughters, and to those who toil in the fields by day and serve their master's loins by night. Whether moved by a tragic past or acting out of filial piety, authors and artistes continue to bring the stories of their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers to an emerging generation brought up on the conveniences of fast food and frozen dumplings.
Jasmine Women is an effort "dedicated to all mothers", as its opening credits assert. Based on the book Funü Shenghuo (Life of Women) by Su Tong, it is about three generations of women in a family – Mo in the 1930s, Li in the 1950s, and Hua in the 1980s – who seemingly inherit a genetic ill-fate with men. Their story is told in three chapters: 'Grandmother', 'Mother', 'Daughter'. Collectively, their names make up the word 'mo li hua' or 'jasmine'.
Using his extensive experience as a cinematographer for films like Hero and The Road Home, director Hou Yong paints a romanticised Shanghai, from the regal 1930s themed in green, the socialist China in red, to the industrial 1980s in blue. The colours bookend the three chapters, but also set the mood for Zhang Ziyi's transformation from Mo to Li to Hua.
That's right, male audiences will pleasure in Zhang's extended screen time, playing all three daughters in the film. Her strongest portrayal comes as Mo, a film star wannabe who is seduced by the crafty talent scout Meng (Jiang Wen). Torn between aborting and keeping their lovechild, she chooses the latter – a decision she regrets for a lifetime. Wide-eyed naivety disintegrates into moral indifference; even her mother's (Joan Chen, who also plays the older Mo) aged lover is allowed to partake of Mo's delicacies. Both Zhang and Chen imbue their multiple characters with enough individualism, be it headstrong, detached or psychotic.
Yet while lacking the true chameleon-like talent of say Sean Penn and Edward Norton, the star-studded cast is secondary to the film's deeper meanings. To China's 1.3 billion, Jasmine Women represents some of the circumstances in which its people came to be. With the one-child policy in place since 1979, international adoptions and gendercide are two issues that the nation still grapples with. Whether the wombs of the world's most populous nation harboured shame or hope, ultimately, their story of survival is captivating.
Release Date
20 July 2006
Hou Yong
Zhang Ziyi, Joan Chen, Jiang Wen, Liu Ye, Lu Yi
Running Time
2 hours 9 minutes
Mandarin with English & Malay subtitles
THINK Review: Jasmine Women (2006)

THINK Review: Jasmine Women (2006)

Published in in July 2006.

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