hosted by tripod
E-mail this page to a friend Tell me when this page is updated

On-Line Review by Christian Leopold Shea:


2001 by Christian Leopold Shea. All rights reserved.


Leung Wah Sang James's production design is rich with the symbolism of classical China, but director Ho Yim shows the fading of this classical culture by the gradual introduction of modern, Twentieth Century elements: a group of men in the background of one scene who are busy erecting a pole with a bundle of wires attached is a precursor to a significant scene in which the town turns out to celebrate that questionable innovation, Electricity. That scene, in which a Chinese opera which is a tragedy about two lovers who die, only to return as butterflies, marks the seminal transformation of the relationships between Madame Wu and Andre and between Fangmao and his Second Mother.

The end of Pavilion of Women is literally unbelievable. "Three years later" (which means 1941, mind you), three of the principal characters are shown reunited in a glorious landscape of fresh grass, nurturing the orphans who had not yet received names, while composer Pope's music rises to yet another thrilling crescendo. . . . Hog piss! While this ending of the film may have been required to get it approved by the Communist authorities in mainland China, it simply does not belong in a film intended for intelligent audiences. Let's take a little reality check, here, shall we?

The Kuomintang, who are described as being unwilling to fight the Japanese in 1938 (while the Communist Army is willing to fight), had been in the field for five years already against the Japanese Empire, fighting alone against a military power which was to prove (in 1941) that it was more than capable of conquering the strongest bastions of European and American military might in eastern Asia and the western Pacific, over-running the vaunted British fortresses of Hong Kong and Singapore in weeks, and driving an entire American army out of the Philipines with its tail between its legs, Douglas MacArthur's memorable sound bite about his return notwithstanding. By 1941, the Japanese Empire was at the peak of its military strength, the KMT was fighting a desparate defensive war, and the Communists, far from being made up of cadres of happy, smiling, proto-Red-Guards dancing in the fields with orphans, were a rag-tag guerrilla force using hit-and-run tactics against an overwhelmingly powerful, vicious, savage, bloodthirsty military agressor which was about to turn its attention to Pearl Harbor, in the United States itself, and which would have, but for the fortunate outcomes of the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, have undoubtedly established a permanent empire in east Asia and the Pacific. A few fortunate shell strikes during the naval war are all that are responsible for "Crocodile" Dundee speaking English instead of Japanese!

The ending of the film version of Pavilion of Women is strongly reminiscent of the fantasy "Golden Country" which Winston Smith creates for himself in 1984, and it is just as unbelievable. The aftermath of the main events of Pavilion of Women were years of civil war, the vicious and unjustified conquest of Tibet, the Korean War, and the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, which, between them, left between thirty million and sixty million Chinese dead -- not at the hands of the Japanese "devils," but at the hands of smiling young comrades like Fangmao (except that, if this were a documentary instead of a fantasy, Fangmao would have very likely found himself being purged in the 1960s by the very orphans with whom he is shown frolicking at the end of this film).

Despite this blatantly unbelievable propagandistic ending, Pavilion of Women is certainly worth watching as a cinematic account of the life of a middle-classed Chinese woman during the last days of social and economic progress before the Japanese invasion hits her home. My advice to the audience, though, is to feel perfectly justified in leaving the theater immediately after the Japanese atrocity scenes are over -- the actual story is, to all intents and purposes, satisfactorily resolved by that point: we know who will survive and who probably will not, and we certainly know who is dead! Indeed, the continuation of the film beyond the deaths which the Japanese inflict violates the internal integrity of the film: one character, following up on the theme established by the opera which is performed during the electrical lighting ceremony, had already observed that all love stories end with death. When Pavilion of Women continues beyond the deaths which the Japanese inflict, into its sugary, pablum-like, unbelievable ending, we are shown more than we need to for good film-making, and the audience need not sit through the gooey epilog to have received its money's worth.

With the rise in theater ticket prices and the growing international audience of our page, our old NW2: Not Worth $2 (U. S. dollars) to W8: Worth $8 rating scale has become less useful than previously, so, in line with the scale used by the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) we have adopted a scale of 1 star to 10 stars, with "1 Star" being a VERY bad movie, and "10 Stars" being a movie classic. Our On-Line Reviewer, however, has gone where IMDb has never gone before: he has added a score of Zero for those movies which are so bad that they are not even good "camp" -- movies so bad that not even "Mystery Science Theater 3000" could could make them worth watching.

On this scale, anything rated "7 Stars" or above is definitely worth the cost of a theater ticket, "8 Stars" is worth standing in line to buy a ticket, "9 Stars" is worth standing in line in a driving rain rainstorm or severe heatwave or moderate windstorm to buy a ticket, and "10 Stars" is a movie worth driving hundreds of miles to go see -- at least in Dr. Shea's own opinion. Accordingly,

Pavilion of Women is a 6 Star movie.

Go see it!

Sign My Guestbook

View My Guestbook

Guestbook by Lpage