Zhou Yu (Gong Li, "Farewell My Concubine"), a ceramic artist, travels by train
twice a week to see her lover Chen Ching (Tony Leung Ka Fai) in rural
Chongyang. Chen, a shy, handsome poet, inspired by her great beauty, wrote
poems for her and, in the process, won her heart with his imagery and
sensitivity. While he welcomes the development and her repeated visits, the
fool either doesn't have an equal devotion or is just too self-involved to
commit his life to her. While she wants to take that step, his reticence
doesn't cool her ardor and she continues her biweekly journeys.
On one of her trips, a handsome young veterinarian who fully recognizes her
extraordinary looks comes on to her with all he's got. At first Dr. Chang,
aka Zhang Qiang, (Honglei Sun) is little more than an annoyance and an ardent
suitor but as relationships define themselves, and as he proves his sincerity
and dependability, Zhou Yu's initial evaluation of him becomes modified and
she regards the worldly bon vivant as a trusted friend.
Zhou Yu sets out one day to find a lake Chen alluded to in one of his poems
-- one in which he compared her to its placid loveliness. We recognize that
her desire to see it is to fulfill something missing in her relationship with
the poet, something uncommunicated, not trusted. When Zhang learns of her
obscure destination, he tags along, somewhat sacrificially in view of the
limited role she's assigned to him in her life and despite his understandable
envy of the primary object of her desire.
The train becomes the symbol of an endless journey on which passions are
burned like so much fuel for the boiler. Zhou's emotions seem to alter, but
then bend back under the weight of their original unrequitable state of
devotion. She goes back and forth with slavish dignity, unable to escape the
obsession that holds her within its stubborn grasp.
This is not life but a stylish tone poem of endless journeying to an
unattainable goal, a station for which there's no ticket.
If the exquisite Gong Li had had me in her eye, she would have had no rail
ties to cross or tears to shed but, then, we wouldn't have had director Sun
Zhou's study in unexplainable behavior in which to illuminate the screen.
~~ Jules Brenner