Story of Qui Ju, The (China, 1992)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

What starts as a simple village squabble escalates rapidly in The Story of Qui Ju. The movie starts with Qui (Gong Li) taking her injured husband Qailing (Liu Pei Qi) to see the doctor. He has just been involved in a fight with the village chief (Lei Lao Sheng). When Qui goes to the authorities to seek recompense for her husband's injury, she receives little in the way of satisfaction. While they are willing to grant Qailing monetary compensation, they will not compel the chief to apologize, which is what Qui really wants. So, despite an advanced pregnancy, she begins a series of long treks to distant districts and cities in an attempt to attain justice.

At times, The Story of Qui Ju is a bitingly amusing satire on the process commonly known as the "bureaucratic runaround". This film goes to new extremes to lampoon a procedure that can make righteous satisfaction a difficult thing to come by. Throughout the film, all Qui wants is a simple apology, but the lengths she has to go to, and the money she has to spend in an attempt to secure it, is astonishing. In the end, we're treated to the most bitter irony of all.

Unfortunately, while Qui Ju is sporadically funny, it is also slow-moving to the point of distraction. There is too much back-and-forth, occasionally causing the story to bog down. Despite the erratic pacing, however, there are several compelling reasons to see the film, which offers a lesson in some of the cultural distinctions of rural mainland China. In The Story of Qui Ju, we see things in a normal, natural setting, not as staged moments designed to impress foreigners

Director Zhang Yimou and actress Gong Li have been reunited for the fourth time (they previously worked together in Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern). Gong's style of acting is marvelously fresh and different from anything originating in a Western country. Her performance is understated, and effective because of it. There is never any sense of melodrama, and Qui's subtle displays of exasperation at the lengths to which she must go for fair hearing are completely believable.

Not only does Qui Ju tackle the issue of bureaucracy, but it takes pains to point out the dangers of pride. Whatever ego Qui has is minimal. She doesn't want revenge; she wants justice, and she's willing to go to any lengths to obtain it. The village chief, on the other hand, will do anything except apologize, and this is where the crux of the conflict lies. Were he less stubborn, Qui's actions would be unnecessary.

For those who enjoy pictures with little action, a minimalist plot, decent characterization, and a good eye for small details, The Story of Qui Ju is worthwhile viewing. Nevertheless, the pace of Qui Ju borders on ponderous, so a reasonable attention span is requisite. There are rewards to be had from a viewing of Zhang Yimou's latest, but only for those with patience.

Story of Qui Ju, The (China, 1992)

Director: Zhang Yimou
Cast: Gong Li, Liu Pei Qi, Lei Lao Sheng
Screenplay: Liu Heng
Music: Zhao Ji Ping
U.S. Distributor: Sony Classics
Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 1993-06-09
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: English subtitled Mandarin Chinese
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: