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    Zhou Yu's Train

    Train of thought

    Touching the brain more than the heart, "Zhou Yu's Train" is an inventively made, kaleidoscopic view of an uncertain reality, even if its very cleverness takes some of the emotion out of its romantic yarn.


    "Zhou Yu's Train" is a nimble, playful piece of moviemaking — and still, somehow, a bit of a drag.

    Original title: Zhou Yu de Huo Che.
    Directed by: Sun Zhou.
    Written by: Bei Cun, Sun Zhou, Zhang Mei.
    Cast: Gong Li, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Sun Honglei, Li Zhixiong.
    Cinematography: Wang Wu.
    Edited by: William Chang.
    In Chinese with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    Quad Cinema 34 West 13th St., between 6th Ave. and University (212) 255-8800. Lincoln Plaza Broadway between 62nd and 63rd

    Our first glimpse of Zhou Yu (Gong Li) is on a train, where she's gingerly carrying a vase she's hand-painted for her boyfriend. Into her path leaps Zhang Qiang (Sun Honglei), a handsome veterinarian who clearly fancies her. If only to break the ice, he admires the vase and offers to buy it.

    "You have two choices. You can keep it, in which case it's quite well done but it has no value, or you can sell it, in which case it starts to take on value."

    "There's another choice," Zhou Yu retorts, letting the vase slip from her fingers and smash into pieces on the ground.

    Through the fragments of memory, like the shards of the lovingly made vase, we see what may or may not be the true story of the love of Zhou Yu's life. She meets Chen Qing (Tony Leung), a semi-reclusive poet and librarian, at a dance where he left her a poem ending with the line "If I vanish, you will hear nothing but silence." On the pretext of returning the briefcase he left behind, she tracks him to another town, and passion instantly strikes. From then on, she will ride the rails twice a week to see her beloved — who reciprocates by writing poems about her and publishing them in the local newspaper.

    Zhou Yu's Train  
    What destiny has in store for this couple is uncertain — even after we've seen it for ourselves — because their story, their ups and downs, are shown in a jumble of time and an ever-shifting set of circumstances. We might see the same scene redone with different costumes, different conversations, different results. His or her mood will shift abruptly and disconcertingly from one shot to another. One key conversation atop a busy bridge in the city cuts instantly to the same conversation amid the debris of a bridge under construction in the town. There's even a question of whether the lover Chen ever existed or whether he and Zhang might have been the same person. It's a dizzying experience, in which a fungible reality shatters into a kaleidoscope of vaguely remembered half-truths.

    Still, despite a lot of intriguing moments, the film is more of an intellectual exercise than a flesh-and-blood romance. It's less the story of Zhou Yu and the Train On Which She Found Love than the story of an inventive director, cinematographer and film editor (Sun Zhou, Wang Yu and William Chang). It has ideas, it looks pretty, it tickles the mind, but in the end, maybe we don't fall in love with the characters ourselves. It is likely to be remembered more for its cleverness than for its impact on the heart.

    JULY 18, 2004

    Reader comments on Zhou Yu's Train:

  • Bus going over cliff   from Bob, Aug 21, 2006

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