The oft-cited crowning achievement of classic Chinese cinema is a mesmerizing portrait of female desire and subjectivity that ranks alongside Brief Encounter and the works of Mikio Naruse. Married to a depressed, chronically ill man, housewife Yuwen (Wei Wei) is quietly suffocating in a provincial village when an old flame unexpectedly walks back into her life. So begins a wrenching internal struggle between marital fidelity and erotic yearning that plays out with supreme restraint on screen, but which boils over in its heroine’s impassioned voiceovers. Employing an expressively ascetic style—languorous long takes; minimalist sound design; exquisitely understated, almost trancelike performances—director Fei Mu conjures an ethereal state of muted frisson. Digital restoration courtesy of the China Film Archive.
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