Pity the beleaguered staff entertainment writer, who must interview (editor’s orders!) each week’s fizzy personality in whatever hapless movie scoots into the multiplex. In contrast, "Film Culture" is free to be snooty, pledged, dear readers, to conversing only with actors and directors working at the top of their talents, in films of genuine merit. So what to do when the great Gong Li, the most fabulous Chinese actress of them all, the brilliant star of Zhang Yimou’s Ju Dou (1990) and Raise the Red Lantern (1991), can be interviewed at the 2003 Toronto Film Festival, but she’s there to discuss the schmaltzy and confusing Zhou You’s Train?
"Film Culture" honor be damned! I raced to Gong’s hotel room for a tete-a-tete. I’d straight-face a discussion about Sun Zhou’s wobbly film in which Gong plays two parts, two women, Xiu and Zhou You, one of whom (Xiu) in the present on a train, spies on the other (Zhou You) in the past on the same train. Both seemingly shuttle twice a week between far-off Chinese stops to visit the same rural-village poet lover, Chen Qing (Tony Leung Ka Fai). Maybe,at least, Gong can help unravel this perplexing story?
What can she explain about Xiu, the second woman doing the spying? "She’s Chen Qing’s girlfriend two years later. She’s read his novel, and she’s trying to enter his world. In the very beginning of the movie, Xiu was a city woman with her own business and career, the owner of a bar. She has a sharp personality. Before I started this film, I didn’t understand Xiu very much. Why should she go back and forth on a train? I thought that was tiresome. But the director of the movie took me to a bar, and introduced me to people he knew. When I observed girls in the bar, and talked to them, I understood."
But there’s no such bar in the movie!
"It was cut out in post-production," Gong said.
OK. Well, is it possible that there’s really just one woman, that Zhou You is only in Xiu’s imagination? Gong: "You can have two interpretations. Zhou You is a mirror for Xiu, the shadow of Xiu. There’s a communication between them. But Zhou You is not an illusion. She’s a real person."
Zhou Yu (assuming she exists) is, by job, a painter in a ceramics factory. Doesn’t her pottery count at all? Is love all that matters?
"That’s a new question for me," Li answered. "I think it’s right that ‘love only’ is a mistake, though the film is not about other aspects of these two women’s lives. Although it’s worthwhile to love, and to give love is great, a person is also a social being. She must communicate with other people."
(Boston Phoenix, August, 2004)