Pavilion Of Women

Sumptuous but undermined by stilted dialogue and awkward performances, this adaptation of Pearl S. Buck's 1946 novel is the kind of movie that used to be advertised with phrases like "forbidden passions" and "against the backdrop of a world in flames." 1938, Suzhou Province: Madame Wu (celebrated Chinese actress Luo Yan, who also produced and co-scripted),...read more

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Reviewed by Mailtand McDonagh
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Sumptuous but undermined by stilted dialogue and awkward performances, this adaptation of Pearl S. Buck's 1946 novel is the kind of movie that used to be advertised with phrases like "forbidden passions" and "against the backdrop of a world in flames." 1938, Suzhou Province: Madame Wu (celebrated Chinese actress Luo Yan, who also produced and co-scripted), who was married at age 16, has for 24 years answered to her husband's iron-willed mother (Anita Loo) and sublimated her desires to the needs of her wealthy, venerable, extended family. Now, as her 40th birthday approaches, she wants to pursue her own interests and shift responsibility for her husband's sexual gratification to a concubine. Normally a wife would resent the presence of another woman in her household, and bringing in the "second wife" would be a man's decision. But Madame Wu carefully couches her unorthodox actions in terms of a dutiful wife's selfless concerns — Mr. Wu (Shek Sau) deserves a younger woman. She selects an uneducated country orphan, a trembling teenager raised with such careless disdain that she was never even given a name. Madame Wu calls her Chiuming (Yi Ding), "Bright Autumn," but the girl brings only unhappiness. Dissatisfied with Chiuming's sexual skills, Mr. Wu starts cruising the local brothel. The Wus' rebellious youngest son, 18-year-old Fengmo (John Cho), resists the propitious marriage his parents have arranged, flirts with communism and falls in love with Chiuming. In addition, Fengmo's American tutor, Father Andre (Willem Dafoe), introduces into the traditional household modern Western notions that clash with Chinese customs. And though the Wu family willfully ignores the outside world, Japanese troops are steadily making their way towards the family's compound. Touted as a pioneering collaboration between China and the U.S., this epic drama is painfully awkward from the screenplay up. Make no mistake, the locations and production design are breathtakingly beautiful. But though cast largely with Chinese actors, it was shot in English, which no doubt made business sense but almost certainly accounts for many truly awful performances. That said, much of the dialogue (the product of a bilingual collaboration between Luo and her American co-screenwriter, Paul Collins) is so clichéd and melodramatic that it's hard to imagine the actor who could make it sound convincing. Conrad Pope's score tries to fill in the dramatic coloring missing from the relationships between characters, but succeeds only in being bombastic.

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  • Released: 2001
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Sumptuous but undermined by stilted dialogue and awkward performances, this adaptation of Pearl S. Buck's 1946 novel is the kind of movie that used to be advertised with phrases like "forbidden passions" and "against the backdrop of a world in flames." 19… (more)

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