PRINT March 1992


IT IS THE 1920s. When a 19-year-old woman must abandon college after her father dies, she accepts a marriage offer from a wealthy older man. Her unsympathetic stepmother notes that if she marries this man she “will only be a concubine”: then “let me be a concubine,” the girl retorts, “Isn’t that a woman’s fate?” One year later the marriage has reduced her to insanity.

The stark simplicity of this tale, the natural inevitability of its four-act structure—summer, autumn, winter, and summer (alas! no spring)—along with the static, symmetrical series of views through which it is told suggest the classicism of Greek tragedy. Meanwhile the theme of domestic constraint turns Greek agon into feminist narrative. But the setting is northern China. The ingenue, Songlian, is Chinese. The old master already has three wives. And the tale itself is a movie made by director Zhang Yimou. His lead actress,

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