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Ju Dou is a powerful, sensual tale about forbidden love. After the suppressive Chinese Cultural Revolution ended, several Chinese film makers in the 1980s and 1990s began to explore and portray taboo subjects.

Set during the early twentieth century in the countryside of mainland China, audience members are invited to share the secret bond that is held passionately between two doomed lovers. Ju Dou is a woman sold into marriage to an old, malicious dye mill owner. Tian-qing is the mill owner’s docile hard-working nephew. While Tian-qing is away on business for his uncle, Ju Dou arrives to the mill only to be beaten and verbally abused by her impotent husband. With fresh wounds on her face, Ju Dou embarrassingly looks away when she meets Tian-qing.

Tian-qing instantly becomes enamored with Ju Dou and is frustrated and furious when he hears Ju Dou’s screams in the night. Her demanding aging husband is adamant about getting his wife pregnant so that the family lineage will carry on. Too proud to admit that it is his own fault for not being able to reproduce, Ju Dou is humiliated each night by brunt force lashings carried out by her husband.

One day while the tyrant is away on business, Tian-qing and Ju Dou are left alone at the mill. Ju Dou recognizes that this is the perfect opportunity to seek refuge. Clinging to Tian-qing’s body, she cries for protection and love. Both living lonely existences, they embrace each other and find mutual love. Ju Dou becomes pregnant with Tian-qing’s child. Both parents are elated but because of Tian-qing’s traditional beliefs in respect for ancestral elders, they have to pretend that it is Ju Dou’s husband’s child.

Eight months later Ju Dou gives birth to a son. This makes her husband very pleased and happy. However, a serious stroke leaves him paralyzed from the waist down. Because of his immobility, Ju Dou and Tian-qing are able to secretly spend each night together. Unfortunately these blissful moments do not last long. Ju Dou’s husband recognizes what is going on and in an act of rage; he tries to kill the child.

As the child begins to grow up he becomes confused on who his father is. This problem eventually ruins the family.

I will not say anymore because I hope this summary has made you want to see the film and see what happens in the end. Trust me it is worth watching. Just remember to have a box of tissues nearby.

The cinematography in this film is visually stunning. The vibrant colors in the dye mill parallel the pulsating attraction found between Ju Dou and Tian-qing. The complex twisting plot engages viewers into a world competing with traditional practices.

Other Yimou Zhang films worth checking out are: Red Sorghum and The Story of Qiu Ju. The brilliant actress, Gong Li, also stars in these two films.

Below is the trailer of the film:

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