LOVE THIS TRAIN: Zhou Yu's.
The writer William Faulkner once said, “If you want drama, take two men, and put a woman between them.”
Old Bill knew from whence he spoke. The turmoil caused by the love triangle is as old as the hills and apparently universal. Case in point: “Zhou Yu’s Train.” A beautiful — though sometimes baffling — film, it is one of those movies that sets three hearts spinning and then stands back to catch the sparks. Though the plot isn’t new, it is done well and powerfully here, with work from the three principal actors that handily pierces the language barrier.
The sophomore effort of director Zhou Sun, “Zhou Yu’s Train” centers around Zhou Yu (Gong Li, fresh from a hiatus she took after her stunning turn in “Raise the Red Lantern”), a young artist who spends her days in rural northwestern China painting bucolic scenes on cheap vases which she then sells. Involved in an affair with a shy poet named Chen Qing (Tony Leung Kafai), a bookish sort who is almost phobic about leaving his library, Zhou Yu makes a two-hour train ride every week to visit him and to make wild, sweaty, poet/artist-grade love.
The aforementioned triangulation begins when, headed to see Chen on one of her endless train rides, Zhou Yu meets Dr. Zhang Qiang (Hanglei Sun), a country veterinarian who covets both her and the hand-painted vase she is taking as a gift for Chen. Chatting with him, toying with him to pass the time, Zhou Yu finds that Zhang is the physical and worldly Yin to Chen’s intelligent and isolated Yang — all the things she has found lacking in her long-distance paramour. Soon, Zhou Yu and the good doctor are involved in a torrid affair, and she is taking train rides to go and see both him and Chen.
Told non-linearly, “Zhou Yu’s Train” can be confusing at times, but it is always filled with beauty and care, even the long scenes (some in slow motion) conveying the boredom of Zhou Yu’s train rides. After awhile, the train itself becomes a kind of otherworldly vehicle, conveying Zhou Yu though light and dark between her lovers, shuttling her between the two possible futures the men represent. Though its style may furrow the brow of even the most attentive viewer, “Zhou Yu’s Train” is a movie that — like much of Mr. Faulkner’s fiction — can be appreciated for its beauty alone. It’s often confusing, but worth it.
— By David Koon
Yeah, “She Hate Me” opened last week, so we’re not talking an up-to-the-second review here. But, like the good Samaritan who hammers in a “DANGER!” sign next to the deadly pit of quicksand, I thought it was my duty to warn you away from this sucking puddle of goo in case you were foolhardy enough to stumble into it.
Don’t get me wrong. For all his quirks, I like Spike Lee’s movies. I adore his shoot-from-the-hip early stuff, and his luminous and insightful “Malcolm X” is easily one of my favorite movies — maybe my favorite biopic.
So it’s with a heavy heart that I have to relay what an absolute, glimmering piece of crap “She Hate Me” is. Though it’s a fascinating thing to look at — due mostly to Lee’s masterful and offbeat camera work — the story line is so unintentionally farcical at best (and downright insulting at worst) that even Lee’s eye for scene can’t save it.
Based on a screenplay by writer Micheal Genet (maybe therein lies the rub), “She Hate Me” is the story of John Henry “Jack” Armstrong (Anthony Mackie). Like his hammer-slinging namesake, Jack is a black man who has beat the machine. Harvard educated, he is on his way to the top of a Fortune 500 company when he informs on his bosses for some business hinkiness. Soon, the Securities and Exchange Commission gets involved and goes Enron on their asses. Jack is fired, and — with his name splashed around liberally as a whistleblower — finds himself unemployable. So far so good.
The problem is what happens next. Finding out Jack is desperate for money, his old girlfriend, Fatima (Kerry Washington), comes to him with a proposition. Now a corporate power lesbian, she offers Jack $10,000 to impregnate her and her girlfriend. Also — in a plot point stolen from the dreams of fratboys and porn addicts everywhere — they’ll only let him do it the old fashioned way — as in between the sheets.
You know where this is going. Once he does the deed for Fatima and her girlfriend, powerful (and — also in porn-movie style — stunningly beautiful) lesbians come out of the woodwork, seeking Jack’s stud services at $10,000 each. As if that wasn’t hackneyed enough, he is supposedly so great in bed that once they go Jack, they always come back — even to the point of finding the fabled “cure” for their pesky homosexuality. Somewhere, Ralph Reed is thinking dirty thoughts and working on his abs.
While Spike Lee has never been afraid of taking on controversial themes (modern blackface actors in “Bamboozled,” interracial relationships in “Jungle Fever”), he always seems to be working from the pit of his convictions, even if they aren’t what we want to hear. “She Hate Me,” however, feels like so much tooth-rotting cotton candy: a homophobe’s fantasy of flipping lesbians’ switches back to “hetero” by sheer penis power. Lee can do better than this. We’ve seen him do it.
— By David Koon