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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
The Story of Qui Ju (Qiu Ju da guan si) (1992)

"Look, Qui Ju, take your case to the gods in heaven, the result will be the same."
- Chief (Quesheng Lei)

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: March 27, 2006

Stars: Gong Li
Other Stars: Lei Lao Sheng, Liu Pei Qi, Ge Zhi Jun, Ye Jun, Yang Liu Chun, Quesheng Lei
Director: Zhang Yimou

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: PG for some language
Run Time: 01h:40m:21s
Release Date: March 28, 2006
UPC: 043396141124
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-C+B D-

DVD Review

Zhang Yimou's The Story of Qui Ju is about one woman's stubborn struggle against an indifferent legal system. It's set in rural, modern day China, but will ring true to any American who has been elbowed through our legal system or forced to stand in line for countless hours at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Proof that a swift jab to the family jewels translates clearly into any language, The Story of Qui Ju opens with the title character (Gong Li) hugely pregnant and literally carting her husband Wan Quinglai (Liu Pei Qi) to the doctor's to examine the damage done by a low blow. There's some concern that the injury may limit the couple's chance to have another child (they're not sure if the unborn is a boy or girl; guess which one they'd prefer), but Qui Ju is more concerned that the attacker, the village chief (Quesheng Lei), has wounded her family's pride. She files a report with the local police, who laugh her off, determine both parties were at fault, and order the chief to pay a cursory fine for Quinglai's medical bills and lost wages. Qui Ju doesn't want money, though—she wants an apology.

This odd little movie, in which the fact that not a lot happens is sort of the point, follows Qui Ju as she sets out from her tiny farming village on a quest for justice. With her sister-in-law Meizi (Yang Liu Chun) in tow, she first heads to the district police office and makes her complaint again. When it yields the same result, she travels further, to the city. Each institution efficiently processes her case without ever really listening to what she's saying.

Qui Ju and her sister are small town folk, and their long treks to the district and the city become dryly comic misadventures. Before going to see district police, they learn they need a complaint letter. Qui Ju can't write, and so she pays an old man to write one for her. He tells her he's done it 12 times before, resulting in victories for the injured party each time (and a death sentence for the offenders on the rare occasions he's asked to write a "forceful" letter). But what he churns out is a joke. "Who wrote this?" the policemen ask, laughing. Qui Ju, despite her dogged determination to get that apology, is treated like a non-entity (the plight of the Chinese woman is a common subject for Yimou's films). She must wait outside while her husband sees the doctor, and later while various officials debate the merits of her complaint. Quinglai, meanwhile, is chided for letting the woman be head of the household and tries to order his wife to lay off.

It's sort of heartbreaking seeing this woman's faith in the government crumble as, time after time, she is ignored by an indifferent bureaucracy and swindled by con men attracted to the two easy marks in country clothes. After overpaying a dishonest cabbie for a ride, Qui Ju decides to visit the local government official who will decide her case. That she thinks her gift of fruit and a cheap painting will help win him over is bad enough; that he won't even accept them, and sends her away by telling her a lawsuit is always an option if she doesn't like his decision, is even sadder.

This is one of Gong Li's career-making performances; for several years, she was director Zhang Yimou's muse, and though this movie gets less attention than her other performances for him, most notably in Raise the Red Lantern and To Live, she's every bit as good here. Qui Ju is stubborn but not unlikable, and she speaks volumes without saying much at all. Yimou excels with stories both epic (Hero, House of Flying Daggers) and intimate (The Road Home), and that The Story of Qui Ju falls into the latter category doesn't mean it isn't worthy. Shot on location, authentic visuals are compelling and unusual (at least to Western eyes), and the film is accessible, challenging, amusing, and touching in equal measure.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Story of Qui Ju looks acceptable but not outstanding on DVD. The image is distractingly grainy at times, and the source print shows some dirt and wear. Detail is only fair, and there's some visible edge enhancement. I didn't see any artifacting, but my copy, at least, suffered from two instances of digital blocking that lasted for less than a second each.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Chinese stereono

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in a simple stereo mix that serves the film well enough. Speech is presented clearly and the sound effects are presented with occasional stereo seperation across the front mains.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Not surprisingly, The Story of Qui Ju comes to DVD sans extra features of any kind. Subtitles are readable and chaptering is adequate.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

A unique, funny, deceptively simple film about one woman's struggle to assert herself in an indifferent society, The Story of Qui Ju is another small-scale triumph from director Zhang Yimou.


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