The Story of Qiu Ju

Gong Li, 27, has a shining talent that transcends language barriers. In her fifth film for renegade Chinese director Zhang Yimou, she gives her best performance yet. Her last two films for Zhang --- Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern --- were period pieces with a contemporary political subtext. They were also strongly erotic. The only red-hot items this time are the rows or chili peppers drying in the small village where the pregnant Qiu Ju (Gong Li) lives with her farmer husband (Liu Pei Qi). This is Zhang's first look at peasant life in modern China. It's an enthralling film of startling passion and bite --- remarkable considering that it was made during the repression that followed Tiananmen Square. Gong Li plays against the image of the submissive Chinese woman. It's Qiu Ju who rebukes the village leader for beating her husband so badly that he can't work. It's Qiu Ju who travels to town to demand justice from a vast bureaucracy. Using hidden cameras and many nonactors, Zhang presents a vivid picture of the new China. As Qiu Ju measures her standard of justice against the law's, the story achieves the spare clarity and power of a fable. In the last close-up, humanity and ideology clash on Qiu Ju's haunted face. This is an actress and a movie you won't forget.