Review of The Knot (云水谣; Mainland China/Hong Kong/Taiwan, 2006), A China Film Group Corporation, Hong Kong Emperor Classic Films Company Ltd. , Taiwan Long Shong Entertainment Multimedia Co. Ltd., and CCTV Movie Channel production
Director: Yin Li
Producers: Zhang Xun, Guo Musheng.
Executive Producer: Yin Li
Screenwriter: Liu Heng, based on the original script by Zhang Kehui
Editor: Zhan Haihong
Music: Zhou Ye
Cinematographer: Wang Xiaolie
Art Director: Lu Yuelins
Cast: Chen Kun, Xu Ruoxuan (Vivian HSU), Li Bingbing, Gui Yalei (GUA Ah-leh), Qin Han (CHUN Hon), Yang Guimei (YANG Kuei-Mei), Liang Luoshi (Isabella LEONG)
Running time: 112 MIN.
Release in China: 2006.
Shaoyi’s Rating: B+ (Very Good)
Although a graduate of the famed 1982 class of the Beijing Film Academy, which was later labeled the “Fifth Generation” of Chinese filmmakers, Yin Li has been a less well known name in the film circle (partly due to his TV career) until his film Zhang Side, a “main melody” (a code name for propaganda films in China) production that features top leaders of the Communist Party during the Civil War period, including Mao, swept the best film, best director and best leading actor awards at the 2006 Golden Rooster Film Festival. If his winning of the Best Director title is somewhat controversial, then the crowd-pleasing love melodrama The Knot could probably silence the critics who usually tend not to vote for “main melody” films.
Starring popular mainland actors Chen Kun, Li Bingbing, and Taiwanese actress Vivian Hsu, The Knot tells the story of a Taiwan leftist’s love life between the later 1940s and early 1960s, the period when politics and war made love and personal life a luxury. The story unfolds in 1940s’ Taiwan, where a medical school student named Chen Qiushui is offered an English tutor job at a local dentist’s family. Qiushui and Wang Biyun, the dentist’s child-looking daughter, fall in love at the first sight. But love cannot conquer everything. At the sensitive time when GMD/KMT is consolidating power on the island of Taiwan to prepare its imminent retreat from the mainland, any dissident voice has to be silenced. Qiushui, because of his left-leaning ideas (which is only suggested in the film), is forced to flee from the island on the eve of the 228 Incident. The two are forever separated since then by the hostile straits of Taiwan.
For a love melodrama to work, however, it is almost an unspoken rule that the romance needs to involve a “third” party or multiple parties. Thus comes Wang Jindi, Biyun’s “mirror image” after Qiushui joins the Communist army in the mainland. The two become friends at the end of the Korean War and eventually get married in Tibet after Wang Jindi re-names herself “Wang Biyun,” an act that would probably annoy many female filmmakers and writers. The film ends with the tragic death of Qiushui and Jindi in Tibet, and Biyun, now an old woman and painter living in New York, paints the snow-covered Tibetan mountains in red.
With the exception of the relationship between men and women, which may oftentimes look “politically incorrect,” The Knot is a well-made film with great set design, beautiful cinematography, and memorable performances of almost all cast, particularly Li Bingbing, whose acting makes the audience wonder why it takes so long for Qiushui to fall for her. The film proves once again that Yin Li is particularly talented in handling period dramas. The long take (modified and prolonged through special effects technique) in the beginning of the film, which smoothly covers the multi-faceted nature of the everyday life in 1940s’ Taiwan, is in itself a daring achievement. The frequently used fade-to-black transitions between sequences and shots, even in its two-second cut-aways, however, are hard to swallow. Maybe this is a mark of Yin Li’s personal style, but it often disrupts the audience’s focused attention.