For his fifth film, Yimou broke rank with many of his previous works by setting the action in a contemporary period. He also changed his focus from the upper classes to the life of a peasant and her unstoppable search for justice.
Gong Li shines in her least glamorous but intensely watchable role as wronged woman, Qui Ju. During an altercation, the village chief (Lei Lao Sheng) kicks her husband in the testicles, leaving him barren. Pregnant but determined for an explanation as to why this happened, Qui Ju physically struggles through the circular bureaucracy, at each juncture her grit and determination palpable.
Based on the novella, The Wan Family's Lawsuit, Yimou relocated the action to the region of Northern China where he grew up. Much of the film was shot on small hidden cameras so that he could have his professional actors interact with real villagers without them balking at the camera. While the resulting film forgoes some of the more obvious formal beauty of the period dramas, The Story of Qui Ju is full of energy and innovation. A film of narrative density, humanity and comedic charms, it signals Yimou and Li’s considerable versatility and talent.
The Story of Qiu Ju (Qiu Ju da guan si)
8 Mar + 14 Mar
Winner of Best Film, and Gong Li for Best Actress, at the 1992 Venice Film Festival, The Story of Qiu Ju marked a turning point in Zhang Yimou’s fortunes with the national censors.
His previous films, Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern were huge international hits for Yimou and his actress Gong Li. However both films fell foul of the authorities and were initially banned for release in China.