Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (Balzac et la Petite Tailleuse...) (2002)

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Released 9-Feb-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Trailer-Travelling Birds, Raising Victor Vargas
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 106:09 (Case: 116)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Sijie Dai

Shock Entertainment
Starring Xun Zhou
Kun Chen
Ye Liu
Shuangbao Wang
Zhijun Cong
Hong Wei Wang
Case ?
RPI $29.95 Music Pujian Wang

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Chinese Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     There's an interesting character to the act of oppression. The very element that we attempt to suppress gains a life-force and energy all of its own, until it effects its own counterrevolution. And so, the story of Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress is a gentle, personal account of the active pursuit of cultural cushioning in the "Reeducation" programs of Maoist China.

      Luo (Chen Kun) and his colleague Ma (Liu Ye) are considered to be young intelligentsia, and as such, their "dangerous" reactionary ways need to be re-educated in a rustic mountainous village. The chief of the tiny community has absorbed Chairman Mao's message extremely well, so well in fact, that he turns his ire on the boys' cookbook, flinging the offensive bourgeois object into the fire. Ma's violin looks likely to suffer the same fate until he manages to convince the irascible old tyrant that the sweet Mozart sonata he plays is called "Mozart Thinks of Chairman Mao"!

      Having survived their first scrape, Luo and Ma settle in to the harsh and crude life of the "Phoenix in the Sky" village. Their days are filled with odious (and odorous) toil, and their boredom is mitigated only by spying on the beautiful girls of the next village as they bathe, the most bewitching of whom is the little seamstress. Despite her quick wit and charm, she has never had the benefit of formal education, and so the boys begin to teach her to read from contraband books. The stories of Tolstoy, Dumas, Flaubert, and, of course, Balzac, beguile her completely and open up in her mind possibilities she'd never previously conceived.

      The three form a complex bond that inspires and overwhelms them all. Their clandestine readings of foreign classics outpours in intensity and passion, and the boys' re-enactments of films for the village give rise to spontaneous bursts of creativity amongst the dour peasantry.

      The importance of creativity to the human soul and the irrepressible power of art is a recurring theme in this film. The movie, like the novel from which it came both display the benevolent eye of the expatriate. There's a distinctly whimsical atmosphere that prevails, with exquisite vistas photographed in panoramic splendour. It amounts to a piece that feels very elemental - earth, air, fire and water form the parameters of the villagers' lives, and this setting becomes the stage from which the participants' cultural adventures spring.

      Nothing happens fast in this film, so if your taste is for more pacey numbers you may find this a bit of a struggle. It is a gentle, slightly melancholy piece where Ma and Luo revisit this pivotal time in their youth from the perspective of their now successful but more complicated lives. There is a yearning discovery that it's almost impossible to return to the past, as the intervening years alter our ownership of it.

      The performances by the three leads perfectly complements the whimsy of the text. There's an almost dreamlike quality to the performances - a stylised form of impressionistic acting. Zhou Xun is completely enchanting as the ephemeral little seamstress. She has a perfect blend of butterfly softness and wily sharp-wittedness that makes her a force to be reckoned with. She is completely credible as a character that would inhabit both the boys' passions and reminiscences.

      Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress is a delicate and poignant story of love, art and memory - a charming little film.

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Transfer Quality


     The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced.

     There is a low contrast to this film that may well be deliberate. It results in a rather flat presentation, but this somewhat enhances the dreamlike quality. There is no low level noise to mar the transfer.

     The colour is lustrous and rich with excellent skin tones and a warm palette. The low grain levels further enhance the viewing experience.

     Aside from some very minor aliasing, MPEG and film artefacts are kept to a minimum, which is very pleasing indeed.

     Subtitles are clean, clear and easy to understand.

     This disc is single sided and single layered with no layer change with which to contend.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     There is a single audio track of Chinese Dolby Digital 2.0 which is quite sufficient for this presentation.

     Dialogue was clean and clear and audio sync presented no difficulties.

     The music by Pujian Wang was utterly glorious. A perfect blend of classical and traditional music, it operated as a character in the plot and was never short of superb.

     There was no surround or subwoofer activity in the film, but it did not require it either, so no complaints here.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



     The menu design is themed around the movie. It features an animated clip from the movie and Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded audio.

Theatrical Trailer

     There are 2 trailers, one for Travelling Birds and one for Raising Victor Vargas - two films that look very interesting.


     These brief pages of cast and crew are reasonably informative.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

      I can see only a Canadian version of this release which looks hard to get, so let's be glad we have this in R4.


     Gentle, whimsical and dreamy, this will drive speed freaks nuts with its slow, languorous pace, but it's a little gem as a character study and a treatise on the value of culture to the human soul.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Mirella Roche-Parker (read my bio)
Sunday, February 22, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDSinger SGD-001, using S-Video output
DisplayTeac 76cm Widescreen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationTeac 5.1 integrated system
SpeakersTeac 5.1 integrated system

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Are the subtitles optional or burned in? - Anonymous REPLY POSTED