Promoted in the US as a Chinese MILDRED PIERCE, Xie Fei's WOMEN FROM THE LAKE OF SCENTED SOULS is an affecting drama about a successful businesswoman who discovers that domestic happiness can't be bought and sold.
Mrs. Xiang (Siqin Gaowa) runs a successful business making sesame oil in rural northern China. Her epileptic son Dunzi and daughter Zhier (Jing Lei) toil alongside their mother, while Xiang's drunken and abusive husband Que (Lei Luosheng) occasionally works at a little store selling the oil.
Dunzi watches enviously as the children play wedding games on the lake, and decides that he wants a wife. His prospects are limited by his epilepsy and child-like mentality. The beautiful Huanhuan (Wu Yujuan) catches his eye, but she loves one of his mother's employees. When Dunzi makes aggressive
advances toward Huanhuan, Xiang decides to buy him a bride, but money is tight. Shinyo, the representative of a Japanese company that may be interested in investing in the business, visits the town. While rowing Shinyo over the water, Xiang relates the legend of Soul Lake. Long ago, two 17-year
old girls, one rich, the other a blacksmith's daughter, committed suicide in the lake. The girls were transformed into beautiful birds flying in the sky.
Xiang engages a matchmaker to find a bride for Dunzi. The mother fancies a reluctant Huanhuan for her daughter-in-law. Xiang knows the sorrows of forced marriage too well. Bought by her husband at age seven, she married him at thirteen. She finds some happiness in the arms of Ren (Chen Baoguo),
a business associate who has become her lover. During a visit to the city to meet with Shinyo, Xiang is shocked to learn that the seemingly independent Japanese woman is expected to provide sexual favors for her boss. But with the deal in place, Xiang sets about ordering her family life. To get
Huanhuan's beloved out of the way, she sends him off to manage her new store in the city. Then, for the price of a cow, she secures Huanhuan as a match for her son. Dunzi marries the unhappy girl in a traditional Chinese ceremony, then wounds her during an epileptic attack on their wedding night.
Xiang watches sadly as her daughter-in-law soothes her cuts in Soul Lake. Huanhuan later runs away, but is reminded of the price paid for her and returns. One night the bride catches Ren slipping out of Xiang's bedroom window, but decides to keep her mother-in-law's secret. Realizing the suffering
she has caused, Xiang decides to allow Huanhuan to divorce Dunzi. "But who will marry me then?" Huanhuan asks in tears.
Reminiscent of the more celebrated rural sagas of Zhang Yimou, though perhaps less visually accomplished, WOMEN FROM THE LAKE OF SCENTED SOULS suggests that even China's rural backwaters are not exempt from the contradictions of a rapidly evolving society. Through a series of pointed
oppositions--city vs. country, tradition vs. modernity, love vs. economic necessity--director-writer Xie Fei explores some of the domestic consequences of China's headlong rush into social and economic reform, meanwhile strongly hinting that Western-style capitalism is not quite the ticket to
happiness that some Chinese have imagined. Xiang, played with exceptional strength and empathy by Siqin Gaowa, herself embodies many of these contradictions. A successful businesswoman who was sold into marriage as a child, she now abuses her power by exploiting those in her domain. She is both
oppressed and oppressor, victim of an abusive husband and an unfaithful wife, street-smart liberated woman and naive country bumpkin. It's a balancing act familiar to Western women, but one that millions of Asian women are just beginning to learn. (Nudity, sexual situations, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: NR
- Review: Promoted in the US as a Chinese MILDRED PIERCE, Xie Fei's WOMEN FROM THE LAKE OF SCENTED SOULS is an affecting drama about a successful businesswoman who discovers that domestic happiness can't be bought and sold. Mrs. Xiang (Siqin Gaowa) runs a success… (more)