Part of the joy of reviewing the Chinese film The Wooden Man's Bride is in explaining its plot. The film opens as a young woman is carried via camel across the desert to her intended husband, the son of a wealthy tofu maker. But along the way, she's captured by bandits. The intended husband gears up to save her and gets killed in the process. Meanwhile, the leader of the camel caravan goes on a suicide mission to save her himself. He does so, through incredible effort, and delivers her safely. Tofu dad figures if he can't have a son, he can at least have a daughter-in-law -- so he marries her to a wooden pole (hence the title). This doesn't sit well with the bride, and eventually she hooks up with her savior. When that gets discovered, things don't look so good for either of them.

How can you not dig this story? Told in the traditional Chinese way, with long takes, expansive long shots, pokey storytelling, and an attention to establishing mood, The Wooden Man's Bride is right at home among contemporaries like Farewell My Concubine. Unfortunately though, Bride is clearly the product of a much lower budget, as it's saddled by some iffy production values: Characters are hard to tell apart because their faces are often in shadow, the sound doesn't sync to the action (breaking bowls, explosions, and the like) by up to a second. The kung fu-style humor this creates is uninentional and out of place. Followinng the oddities of Chinese marriage rituals is interesting, but equally inexplicable (what's with the chicken?).

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