Published Aug 01, 2004Few faces in the world can command the screen like China's Gong Li. Beauty aside, the world-renowned actress can express a wider range of emotion in a single close-up than most actors can over an entire film. She is the Garbo of our generation. Best known for her Chinese historical dramas (Raise The Red Lantern, Ju Dou, Farewell My Concubine) with former paramour and collaborator/director Yimou Zhang, Gong Li now stars in a contemporary love story in Zhou Yu's Train.
Li plays the title character Zhou Yu, who rides the train every weekend to make love with Chen Qing (Tony Leung Ka Fai, best known to Western audiences from The Lover). At the same time, another woman loves Chen Qing, while a man who regularly rides the train (newcomer Sun Hong Lei) lusts after Zhou Yu. What's confusing is that Gong Li plays Zhou Yu as well as the other woman, whose character is hardly on screen anyway and adds little to the drama. Gong Li does manage to instil Zhang Yu with her trademark heroine qualities tough yet alluring, strong and seductive. However, despite a good performance even Gong Li can't flesh out Zhou Yu, whose motivations are vague and whose attraction to the two men remain unconvincing.
The soundtrack is a missed opportunity, crying out for atmospheric music. Visually, the film includes a variety of interesting shots (slow-motion, jump cuts, soft, warm filters), but taken together it feel disjointed, echoing In The Mood For Love but lacking the longing and heat that filled the frames of Wong Kar-Wai's masterpiece. A glance, a turn or a smile evoke far more emotion than dialogue like, "If it's in your head then it's real. If it isn't, then it will never be." (Mongrel Media)