Ju Dou (1990) 

Release Date: 7 September 1990

Directed by: Zhang YiMou

Country: China

Ju Dou is a woman bought by Yang Jin Shan, an owner of a cloth-dye business, to be his third wife. She and Yang Tian Qing (Jin Shan’s adoptive son) eventually fall in love and begins an affair which results in their love child Tian Bai. Tian Bai grows up to be a strange child, barely speaking with violent tendencies. At the end, Tian Bai kills his biological father Tian Qing.

I felt that gender discrimination was the key issue in the movie. It was revealed in the movie that Jin Shan had abused his previous two wives to death. Ju Dou also had to undergo that same abuse by him to the point that she wanted to kill herself. Women were shown to be objectified in the film. Jin Shan views all his wives as a means to bear a son for him.

Furthermore, Jin Shan constantly expresses his desire to have a son, not using the word children but “son”. When he offers prayers to the ancestors, the lanterns hanging by the altar also have the words “子孫” meaning sons and grandchildren. This reveals how much the Chinese favour sons who will inherit and carry the family’s name.

The film depicts women as weak and submissive. Even Tian Qing who falls in love with Ju Dou initially lusts for her viewing her as a sexual object. This only stops when Ju Dou intentionally cries whilst showing him her bruises from Jin Shan’s abuse that he starts viewing her as a human being as well.

This movie really left me in an emotional conflicting mess. I was disgusted by the affair that Ju Dou and Tian Qing had started despite the fact that their relationship is that of aunt and nephew-in-law. This disgust grew when I discovered that in the original novel (which the movie is based on), Tian Qing was Jin Shan’s biological son. However, I was moved by their love for one another which never wavered no matter the multitude of problems they faced. At the same time, watching the two of them sneaking around was nerve-wrecking. Overall, it was a great movie, Zhang YiMou really knows how to direct a good film.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. A well-written film analysis once again, with much to discuss!

    The film’s recurring theme of gender discrimination as you mentioned struck a nerve in me. During the lantern part, I found it almost laughable that Jin-shan was carrying lanterns that meant “luck in having sons” due to his own impotence. Considering how much Jin-shan viewed men over women, it was also puzzling that he abused his own nephew horribly. Perhaps he viewed everyone lower than him except for a son of his own.

    I never knew that this was based on a novel! Let’s be glad that of all the disgusting events that happened in Ju Dou, we were spared of Mother and Step-son sex.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jonlwch says:

    Gender discrimination was definitely a big point in this movie. I feel part of the reason for oppression was the social construct of lineage. Your “pedigree” in a way. China in the early twentieth century still had this concept that continuing your family line through your surname was one of the most important things around. To be fair I believe in respecting your ancestors and having pride in your family but the ideal is taken much too far in the early 1900s with name and “honor” becoming something to be coveted above all else, even sacrificing others attain such things. This being a perfect example of the distortion of ideals and the danger of societal norms.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. fernieletter says:

    I agree that gender discrimination was an important, if not the most important theme in the entire film. Through Ju Dou, Zhang was perhaps attempting to depict the plight of many women in not just 1920’s rural China, but in many patriarchal societies where their identities, freedom, and entire lives are in the control of their male relatives. I found the film difficult to watch as well; I was conflicted about whether Tianqing was in fact, a protagonist or an antagonist in the film, as he was shown at many points to be behaving in a hypocritical manner. Women are depicted as weak and submissive; that Ju Dou repeatedly expects Tianqing to remove her from her situation instead of at least attempting to take some form of action on her own is proof of this fact. I didn’t realize that Jinshan had even purchase lanterns which had the word “sons and grandchildren” written on them, but this serves to only heighten the obvious patriarchal status quo in the film.


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