Ju Dou (1990) (NTSC)
Menu Animation & Audio
Biographies-Cast & Crew
|Year Of Production||1990|
|Running Time||88:48 (Case: 94)|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
Chinese Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Chinese Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.59:1|
|Video Format||480i (NTSC)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.66:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Ju Dou (Gong Li) is an attractive new wife for Yang, the proprietor of a textile dying mill in 1920s China. The new bride has literally cost Yang a fortune and he is insistent that she must bear him a child, which is a very big ask from a fellow with no ink in his quill, so to speak. Yang's impotence is all-consuming as he distils his frustrations into violence and torture directed squarely at his young wife, also lecturing her of her duty and failure. In complete contrast, Yang's nephew and loyal employee Tianquing admires Ju Dou quietly from a distance and feels deep resentment towards his uncle for the ongoing abuse. Seeking romance, Ju Dou initiates an illicit affair with Tianquing and their union bears a son, Tianbai, who is deceitfully passed off as the child of Yang. A miracle, no less! Yang is thrilled at the prospect of finally having an heir to his empire, while Tianquing sits idly by stewing in a teary cocktail of regret, bewilderment and his own guilt.
Things begin to change when Yang is paralysed from the waist down in an accident, leaving the secret lovers to care for him and run the business on their own. Yang's suspicion of the pair is virtually instantaneous once he becomes bedridden, and seeing her weakened husband as a significantly lesser threat, Ju Dou chooses to brag and openly flaunt her affair in from of him. Such a decision has dire consequences, and in a classic tragedy of this magnitude you know the couple will never be truly happy, and there certainly won't be a happy end for all.
Filmmaker Zhang Yimou co-directed this film with Fengliang Yang only to find the end product banned in his homeland. Despite being initially shunned in China, the film went on to collect several awards, including an Oscar nomination. Ju Dou exhibits many of Yimou's trademarks, most notably his use of colour, however fans of his recent action efforts Hero and House Of Flying Daggers will more than likely be left a little perplexed.
This is an amazing, emotional and visually stunning film, strengthened further by an outstanding cast. It appears actress Gong Li and Director Zhang Yimou have reunited after more than ten years for his new film, The City Of Golden Armor, which should be fantastic to see.
This transfer has been sourced from analogue videotape, which itself was sourced from a theatrical print in very poor condition. In more than three years of reviewing, this ranks as one of the worst transfers to DVD that I have seen.
This NTSC transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of roughly 1.60:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced. Contrary to data on the IMDb, I believe this film was produced and screened theatrically in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The image appears to have been cropped on the top and bottom. Note that the cover slick incorrectly lists this transfer as "widescreen 2.35:1".
The level of sharpness is poor, which is hardly surprising given the array of different sources at play. Most colours lack vibrancy and are poorly saturated. This is particularly disappointing for a director that uses colour as such an integral part of his storytelling.
Film artefacting of all shapes and sizes is rife throughout the transfer and is particularly heavy during reel transitions. Small scratches literally fill the screen, accompanied by hair, dirt and extreme telecine wobble. Reel change markings are present - in fact, each reel looks as though it has been through very high mileage and certainly not cared for or maintained in the slightest.
If you think film artefact issues are the extent of the problems here, think again. To make matters worse, this DVD transfer was sourced from an analogue videotape with visible tracking errors and assorted magnetic hiccoughs at 19:41, 37:09, 81:00 and 84:58. Frames are heavily ghosted from one to the next, which looks particularly bad during scenes that contain lots of motion or panning.
But wait, there's more! As if the extreme array of source artefacting wasn't enough, MPEG compression artefacting has also been introduced in the form of macro blocking during scenes of fast motion. Take for example the falling confetti around the 70 minute mark. Even the images that have been captured for the cover slick show MPEG blocking. Obviously, having to encode a myriad of film artefacts in a ghosted image would greatly limit the efficiency of the compression process, however large the bitrate.
I've saved the strangest, most diabolical artefact for last. When beginning playback, I noticed a bright flash on screen before the feature started. Stepping back frame by frame, I found the disc's authors had inadvertently captured an image of a foreign region's main menu screen. Without going into too much finger pointing and gnashing of teeth (though it is tempting), I think we've already established above that this is a very sub-standard transfer of a film that deserves much better. Let's hope a vastly superior release isn't far away.
Chinese subtitles are activated by default (which is one of many clues as to the origin of this disc), so I switched to the English stream on the fly. The English subtitles contain a few typos and grammatical errors, but are generally easy to read. The font is white with a black outline. I found the subtitle timing a little off at times because some lines were revealed before they were spoken and others lingered on screen for way too long. I wouldn't be surprised if these were composed by a non-English speaker.
This disc is DVD5 formatted, so there's no layer change.
There are two soundtracks accompanying this film on DVD, both in the film's original Mandarin language. The default soundtrack is Dolby Digital 2.0, which is accompanied by a Dolby Digital 5.1 alternative. In short, the audio transfer is as disappointing as the video.
Both audio streams are marred by pops, clicks, distortion and poor depth overall. The dialogue is fairly distinct and doesn't appear to suffer from any dire sync issues.
The two-channel soundtrack is effectively a mono effort - I couldn't detect any evidence of panning whatsoever. The surround alternative is noticeably louder, but retains all the faults of the default stream. Because the soundtrack has been evenly spread across the front with some slight spill to the rears, I found this enhanced the pops, clicks and distortion that was present. The Dolby Digital 5.1 stream also has a slight hum in the background that I didn't notice on the two-channel soundtrack.
The subwoofer isn't utilised at all. This is a shame, because it could serve the excellent percussive score well if it were mixed properly.
|Surround Channel Use|
A short bio and filmography is included for actress Gong Li and Director Zhang Yimou. These are presented in both Chinese text and English.
The video and audio transfers are awful.
The extras are limited to a few pages of text.
|DVD||Denon DVD-3910, using DVI output|
|Display||Sanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector, Screen Technics Cinemasnap 96" (16x9). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.|
|Amplification||Denon AVR-2802 Dolby EX/DTS ES Discrete|
|Speakers||Orpheus Aurora lll Mains (bi-wired), Rears, Centre Rear. Orpheus Centaurus .5 Front Centre. Mirage 10 inch sub.|