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BLUSH (HONG FEN)(director: Li Shaohong; screenwriter: Ni Zhen; cinematographer: Zeng Nianping; editor: Zhou Xinxia; cast: Wang Ji (Qiuyi), Wang Zhiwen (Lao Pu), He Saifel Xiao), Cao Lei (narrator), Wang Rouli (Mrs. Pu); Runtime: 119; China Film; 1994-China)
“Its use of color was startling, as yellow was most effectively used to both evoke a sense of renunciation and hope.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

There is no doubt about the oppressiveness of the Chinese Communist regime and this film in an uncompromising way, presents the devastating emotional conflicts of the Communist Revolution. It is beautifully filmed in the style of a formal Chinese landscape painting, using the commonplace to be viewed as something that goes beyond its present linear form, to give it an eternal flavoring. The story is from a work by Su Tong, whose other novel was the basis for “Raise the Red Lantern.” The story is related to us by a woman narrator (Cao), whom we never see onscreen.

In 1949 The People’s Liberation Army closes down all the country’s brothels and in the outskirts of Shanghai they close down the Red Happiness Inn, where all the girls are taken aboard a barge and turned over for re-education to an internment camp. Qiuyi (Ji) and Xiao (He) are very close, like sisters, with Xiao being weak-natured (she was born in the Red Happiness Inn to be a whore) and is very dependent on the independent-minded Qiuyi.

Qiuyi escapes the camp and seeks out a rich playboy client, Lao Pu (Wang Zhiwen), who lives with his mother. Lao puts her up in their luxurious house and takes pleasure in their relationship, until his mother openly disapproves of the girl and asks Qiuyi to leave. Lao looks for a compromise to the situation, and tells Qiuyi he will get her an apartment where they can share a love nest. She is insulted by this and storms out of the house, choosing to follow wherever fate takes her. It takes her to a Buddhist monastery, where Qiuyi is forced to shave her head and live a pure life without any worldly desires if she wishes to stay there. With reluctance she does this, and lives unhappily there until the nuns discover that she is pregnant and ask her to leave. Meanwhile Lao is rebuffed when he visits her in the monastery, as she is ashamed to let him see her without her hair. He leaves; and, we witness how the People’s Liberation Army confiscates his land and wealth and forces him to become an accountant in a factory, paying him an unlivable wage. Lao starts a relationship with Xiao, after visiting her in the factory she now works at after being rehabilitated. After a night of sleeping together, she conjoles him into marrying her by telling him she will never him see again if he doesn’t.

At their marriage ceremony, Qiuyi comes by to give her a bracelet as a present. Xiao follows her outside, begging her to listen to the reason why she got married, telling her that Lao talked her into it. Qiuyi says there is nothing to say, that she is not stupid, she knows when someone is lying to her, and then she impulsively gives Xiao another present, her umbrella, telling her she doesn’t need it now that it stopped raining. The narrator tells us that in Chinese, umbrella sounds very similar to separation.

The marriage results in a son; they name him the “sad one.” Their marriage is an unhappy one, full of fights and rancor. Qiuyi is disillusioned that her husband can’t give her a good life and he has become despondent about his life realizing, now, that he is married to the wrong girl. The third party in this unhappy triangle returns home to her impoverished childhood, after the monastery kicked her out in the driving rain and Qiuyi miscarriaged at the shut door of the monastery where she would have died except for the belated pity of one of the nuns who saved her life. Things seem hopeless, and she seems to have lost all her confidence; just to survive, she marries an old man who has a tea shop. He is so insignificant to the story, that we never even see him.

After much misery, seeing no way out of his problems, Lao decides to embezzle money from his factory. He mails most of the money he stole to Qiuyi, and he gives enough for Xiao to have a week’s worth of pleasure. He is caught and executed. The narrator relates to us the events of the firing squad, and we learn how insignificant his death was. All we see is the camera following the bland landscape, and all we hear of his death are the shots being fired and the narrator telling us how he was expressionless at the time of his death.

Qiuyi learns she can’t have children anymore so she pays a visit to Xiao, who finds the child to be a burden on her. Qiuyi offers to take the child from her and raise him as her own. This is consummated when Xiao meets someone from the north and decides to run away with him. Qiuyi renames the baby “New China”. That is about as optimistic as it gets for this bitter tale of politics and romance, told from a woman’s point of view.

This is a very serious, stylized, artistic film with many long angle camera shots, that give the film a depth that goes beyond the mere telling of the story. The story seemed to be dragging its heels at times, as it hit many dry spots. Its use of color was startling, as yellow was most effectively used to both evoke a sense of renunciation and hope. It was the color of Qiuyi’s umbrella and supposedly her favorite color.

This is a most interesting film to come out of modern China, one that is most blunt and cruel in picking up the human travails and emotional discontentment that the people faced in the hands of their liberators. It always seems that those who want to help you the most end up doing you the most harm, and that seems no different with the self-righteous Communists trying to change the lives of prostitutes. Religion is also looked at with a hopeless feeling.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”