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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Zhou Yu's Train (Zhou Yu de huo che) (2002)

I finally understand that a lover is a mirror through which you can see yourself more clearly.
- Xiu (Gong Li)

Review By: Matt Peterson   
Published: November 23, 2004

Stars: Gong Li, Tony Leung Ka Fai
Other Stars: Honglei Sun
Director: Zhou Sun

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexuality
Run Time: 01h:32m:52s
Release Date: November 23, 2004
UPC: 043396041103
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- CA-A- D

DVD Review

China is adept at producing visually ravishing love stories that transcend time and space. Their work is a testament to the universality of romance, or that which needs no translation—the language barrier is a small obstacle when communicating such innate feelings between cultures. Some efforts are more successful than others. Unlike the superior Springtime in a Small Town, another yarn of yearning from China out this week, Zhou Yus Train drowns in its own ambition, creating a fragmented mess that manages to confuse more than involve.

This is a relatively simple tale that becomes needlessly complicated. The beautiful Zhou Yu (Gong Li) is in love with poet/librarian Chen Qing (Tony Leung Ka Fai), and twice a week she takes a long train ride to visit him in his home among countless stacks of books. Zhou is an artist, as well, though more proud of her craft than the somewhat introverted Chen. She paints exquisite designs onto cheap porcelain—the kind made for uneducated, spendy tourists. On the train, she attracts the eye of another suitor, Zhang Qiang (Honglei Sun), a veterinarian who is decidedly more free-spirited than his poet competition. Initially, Zhou dodges his playful flirtations, but in time, she returns the gesture, only to turn tail in disgust. And so goes the dance by train, which like the conveyance itself, goes back and forth.

There is little more to say here. The train is clearly symbolic of the emotional roller coaster Zhou Yu endures—its grating metal tracks providing a symphony of angst, scoring her purgatory between two distinctly different lovers who reside at different ends of the route. However, the plot is unreasonably fragmented and confusing, made more difficult by the random appearance of another woman who pursues the poet: Xiu, played by Gong Li as well, is a mysterious narrator that comments on the actions now and then, but her role remains foggy and simply confuses the audience. Is this an elder incarnation of Zhou Yu? This is unclear, but is not out of place in a film that doesn't bother to explain character motivations.

One thing that is consistent among Asian cinema is its affecting visuals, and this entry is no exception. Director Sun Zhou manages to weave an engaging visual spectacle, filled with boldly striking and beautiful cinematography. Even this is somewhat scattershot, mixing fisheye lensed handheld shots with hypnotically smooth slow-motion. Still, this remains an impressive display, paired with a stirring string score that prevents Zhou Yu's Train from becoming a total loss.

Performances are fine throughout, led by the talented superstar Gong Li, who has made a lasting impression with performances in films like Farewell, My Concubine and Ju-Dou. She pulls off the dual roles required with impressive intensity and distinction, but her character of Zhou Yu doesn't come off as particularly likable outside of her stunning beauty. Perhaps this is intentional, but it feels more like a side affect of the film's Achilles heel: the lack of a coherent script, and unnecessary, baffling fragmentation. This may be a case of a film's power being lost in translation. Somehow I doubt it.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Columbia's anamorphic transfer is very pleasing. Detail is very good throughout, and colors are well saturated. Contrast is solid and the image has a fine, film-like appearance. Grain is minimal, but there is some edge enhancement. This is still a gorgeous image.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Chinese 5.1 audio is relatively front heavy, but the surrounds kick in when needed, especially during many of the train sequences. Ambiance is the mix's focus, and it accomplishes its goal. LFE is present in key moments, and reinforces the well rendered musical score.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bon Voyage, Beijing Bicycle, The Road Home
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Aside from the theatrical trailer and trailers for the titles listed above, there are no extras.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Zhou Sun's romantic triangle is visually stunning, but suffers from a fragmented plot that doesn't bother to explain or develop its characters. A disappointment. If you want an effective work, look to the films of Wong Kar-Wai, such as the marvelous In the Mood for Love. Columbia's disc delivers fine a/v quality, sans the extras.


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