Pavilion Of Women

"Bad"

Pavilion Of Women Review


Within moments of the opening credits of the weepy, self-important, World War II-era Chinese soap opera "Pavilion of Women" a question arises that plagues the whole movie: Why is this in English?

Everything about this film screams "import" except the dialogue, which screams "translated too literally." A good half of the language coming out of people's mouths sounds so absurdly formalized that any emotion it might have contained is lost under the burden of unnecessary syllables. This is especially odd since the movie was adapted from a Pearl S. Buck novel and written in English to begin with.

The problem (with the dialogue that is, for there are many problems) may also be that the delivery is always either bloodless or histrionic. This could be another byproduct of the picture being a hybrid of Chinese culture and English language. It is Hong Kong director Yim Ho's first project not shot in his native tongue and most of the actors (all Chinese except a missionary played by Willem Dafoe) seem to have learned their lines phonetically and have no idea what they're saying.

But even if Yim didn't speak a word of English, he should still have been able to recognize that "Pavilion of Women" is absolutely drowning in clichés and cheap melodrama, which is a shame because at its heart are the makings of a truly powerful story.

The film is about a miserable upper-caste Chinese wife called Madam Wu (co-writer and producer Lou Yan), who gives her husband a naive, orphaned peasant girl (Yi Ding) as a concubine for his 50th birthday, then tells him she will never again come to his bed and dares to begin pursuing her own life.

It's easy to understand why she would want to do this, since her husband (Shek Sau) is a selfish, cruel, overacted ogre, always full of bellicose threats and sexual demands (he's shown physically forcing Madam Wu to go down on him) -- although one has to wonder why she's OK with inflicting the same unpleasantness on an innocent young stranger.

Of course, the Wus' headstrong oldest son (John Cho) immediately falls in love with the concubine at first sight, creating a maudlin but grossly underdeveloped subplot that complicates his impending arranged marriage, about which he's constantly pouting. But the film's focus falls mainly on the forbidden desire that slowly builds between Madam Wu and Andre (Dafoe), an American priest who runs the local orphanage.

The sexual tension between these two is utterly lifeless until the painfully seriocomic scene that finds them walking through the country side in the rain when Madam Wu twists her ankle, Andre carries her into a barn and their passions explode as they make love on a haystack. At this point, as the soundtrack swells with the cheesy calenture of 10 orchestras from 10 Depression-era romantic tearjerkers, "Pavilion of Women" becomes such a paperback romance that it's hard to not wonder why Yim cast Willem Dafoe as the priest instead of Fabio.

Set in 1938 against the backdrop of the Japanese invasion preceding WWII, the film has a strong sense of place and time. The cinematography is frequently gorgeous, and in its last 10 minutes "Pavilion" manages to become quite a gripping wartime tragedy. But otherwise the film is a technical mess in addition to being sentimentally soulless.

Butcher-shop editing leaves several confrontational or pivotal scenes with no follow-through whatsoever, as when the concubine attempts suicide then disappears from the storyline for several days. On the rare occasion that there is sincere and philosophical dialogue, it is disembodied and used as a voice-over. In fact, the film almost completely fails to show how Madam Wu and Andre become friends. They're in the same room a lot, but their most engrossing conversation is heard and not seen.

I also have a long list of petty criticisms, like the fact that when Madam Wu and Andre's orphans throw him a surprise birthday party he says, "This is the first time I've celebrated my birthday since I was a child." If that's so, how did anyone in this foreign land know it was his birthday? (Sorry, just had to get that one off my chest.)

But it's the fact that the film's emotions are either gushing at one extreme or bone dry at the other -- sometimes in the same scene -- that makes this movie so insincere as to be almost laughable, right down to the insipidly cheery epilogue of the orphanage children at play in a beautiful green field three years after it's all over.



Pavilion Of Women

Facts and Figures

Run time: 116 mins

In Theaters: Friday 16th November 2001

Distributed by: Universal Focus

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 6%
Fresh: 2 Rotten: 29

IMDB: 5.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Father Andre, as Madame Wu Ailian, as Mr. Wu, as Chiuming, as Fengmo Wu

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

After a number of films, TV series and stage adaptations, Arthur Ransome's beloved 1930 novel...

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

The original BBC sitcom The Office ran for 14 episodes from 2001 to 2003, and...

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

Bold and intelligent, this dark drama is a challenging portrait of the making of an...

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

This hugely enjoyable adventure is a loose remake of the 1977 Disney hit that blended...

The Shallows Movie Review

The Shallows Movie Review

With a simple premise and plenty of visual style, Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) takes...

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Watching this gross-out comedy, it's clear that the gifted cast and crew had a great...

Nerve Movie Review

Nerve Movie Review

With a premise that feels almost eerily current, this stylish thriller revolves around a phone...

Advertisement
The Carer Movie Review

The Carer Movie Review

Brian Cox gets the role of a lifetime in this warm comedy about living life...

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Writer-director Robert Budreau takes a stylised approach to this biopic of the legendary jazz artist...

Jason Bourne Movie Review

Jason Bourne Movie Review

It's been nine years since Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass collaborated on The Bourne Ultimatum,...

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

Veteran Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg (Festen, The Hunt) returns to a smaller homegrown story after...

The BFG Movie Review

The BFG Movie Review

For his adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, Steven Spielberg reunited with screenwriter Melissa Mathison,...

Finding Dory Movie Review

Finding Dory Movie Review

It's been 13 years since the release of the Disney/Pixar hit Finding Nemo, and filmmaker...

Star Trek Beyond Movie Review

Star Trek Beyond Movie Review

This is where the Star Trek franchise officially shifts from thoughtful drama into thunderous action....

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.