Ju Dou (1990)

In this post, we will discuss Ju Dou, which was directed by Zhang YiMou, who directed Hero, which was discussed in my previous post. Ah, a film noir, Ju Dou was an interesting movie to watch. A story about ‘forbidden love’ (extra marital affair) between a woman (Ju Dou) and her husband’s (Jin Shan) adopted nephew (Tian Qing), which unravels scene by scene…


Similar to Hero, and as with Zhang YiMou, his work is known to be very visually appealing. Many of his films are guided by an assassin based storyline, where someone is trying to kill another person. Also, Zhang YiMou likes to work with the same actors (“recycling them”), as seen with Gong Li in Red Sorghum, Raise the Red Lantern, Ju Dou, The Story of Qiu Ju and Shanghai Triad.

While watching this film, I noticed how women in this movie were badly treated.. Being sold off to men to be married to them – highly likely they were bought based on how pretty they look (and of course their housekeeping skills). In addition, women were portrayed like animals (in a bad way). In the beginning of the film, Ju Dou was giving a comment about how a pig was screaming for its life… And in the very next scene, Ju Dou was screaming, from the abuse from Jin Shan. In this scene, Jin Shan was sitting on a saddle, on top of Ju Dou and whipping her as if she was some kind of beast. It was heartbreaking and confusing for me to watch. 😦

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This is where Tian Qing comes into the story… Well, I was disgusted when he was peeping at Ju Dou while she was showering. Ju Dou and Tian Qing end up having a son, Tian Bai. I do not understand how a woman would end up loving a man who has been peeping at her but I suppose it was because it was her only chance of being actually loved by a man (as supposed to being bought and then giving birth to a boy).

This leads to the main theme that holds this film together, which I would think is oppression. All that these characters are, are the fruits of living in the repressive Chinese society.

To be honest I do think Ju Dou’s love story was mainly that of desperation and lust, which may have eventually evolved into love (I still think they are not actually in love yet). From a peeping Tom (never married) and an abused wife (because she has yet to bear children- a son), it was a perfect (yet morally wrong) solution to Ju Dou’s problems of being unable to have a son with infertile Jin Shan. Jin Shan was also oppressed! He had to continue his family line, and had the responsibility to uphold his family name.. That is why he is so desperate to have a son, even though he is infertile. Which was why he was so abusive (still does not justify the abuse of course)… He was probably hurt and ashamed and he vented all these feelings on his women (the perceived weaker sex and wives had to be submissive towards their husbands). He was also afraid of gossip, as it would ruin his family’s good name.

As for Tian Bai, being a product of very oppressed parents, may have also inherited Tian Qing’s quiet and submissive nature. Also, he may just have been very conflicted about loving his family vs upholding his good family name. Tian Bai and his rather deathly stares were seen when anyone was heard gossiping about his mother (upholding good family name).

Ju Dou 2

Ju Dou was banned for a few years in China, most probably because how true and dark this film is.. Overall, as with Hero, there were beautiful scenes played with color, and I did enjoy this movie more than Hero simply because I could relate more to the characters.

Note: A good, short and self explanatory reading of Confucius theory/teaching on five relationships can be found here. (To understand the Chinese culture and culture depicted in the film.)



3 thoughts on “Ju Dou (1990)

  1. I do agree that Ju Dou’s love story was focused on the desperation and lust, together with the oppression of women back in the days. It was quite saddening to see that the main lead was treated like ‘animal’ and being seen as a ‘product’ by men.

    Personally, this film feels wrong in every level because how women are being portrayed and how it suggest extra marital affair, but I guess that is what Zhang Yimou want to convey to the audience that in the Chinese society, such situations do happen back in the past. I’m glad this was fixed in recent years where Chinese women are seen as someone stronger and independent. Good job on the analysis!


  2. Your post really gave me a lot to think about and brought up a different perspective, which I had not considered while watching the film and doing my own blog post. While it is apparent in the film that it portrayed and represents the tough and violent tendencies women had to submit to, it was interesting how you brought up that each character is somewhat oppressed in their own ways, leading to the actions of each individual.

    Although it may be true that their love was developed out of lust, they had not much choice. This also relates to the fact that they are being oppressed and are using this ‘love’ they have as an escape from the hurt. Great analysis! ☺


  3. Women’s oppression seems to be a recurring trend that many films have identified with and Ju Dou seemed to be one of the very few that has managed to capture the essence of what it was like for many women in China in that era. As much as we want humans to treat each other with all due respect, its disappointing that these behaviours are still prevalent even in today’s society. In your blogpost, you also stated that there was a recurring trend in Zhang YiMou’s films which were the repetitive use of the same characters in the story. Other Chinese directors such as Jia Zhangke, are also known to use the same tactic in his films. This really left me into deep thought and I could only come up with two possible solutions:
    1. Lack of characters
    2. Director finds it easier to revolve his stories around a character with similar traits and focus more on evolving the plot of the story rather than the characters
    3. The series of films released by the directors are all somehow interrelated.

    I agree with you when you mentioned of the reason why this movie was banned for a few years in China. The Chinese government understandably wants to avoid any negative perceptions that global audiences may have of China. By doing so, they also don’t realise how this may have further proved our judgements on their people and their unremarkable behaviour towards women. A movie that plays with both your emotions and challenging your thought process – during and after the movie. It


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