Ju Dou

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Ju Dou
Ju Dou-poster.jpg
Directed by
Produced by
  • Zhang Wenze
  • Yasuyoshi Tokuma
  • Hu Jian[1]
Based onFuxi Fuxi
by Liu Heng[2]
Music byZhao Jiping[3]
Edited byDu Yuan[3]
Distributed byDaiei (Japan)[3]
Running time
95 minutes[3]

Ju Dou (Chinese: 菊豆; pinyin: Jú Dòu) is a 1990 film directed by Zhang Yimou and Yang Fengliang (though it is almost universally considered to be a product of Zhang's vision as director)[citation needed] and starring Gong Li as the title character. It is notable for being printed in vivid Technicolor long after the process had been abandoned in the United States.[4][5] It was also the first Chinese film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, in 1990.[6][7]

The film is a tragedy, focusing on the character of Ju Dou, a beautiful young woman who has been sold as a wife to Jinshan, an old cloth dyer.

The film was banned for a few years in China, but the ban has since been lifted.[8] The Chinese government gave permission for its viewing in July 1992.[9]

The story originates from a novel.[10]


Ju Dou takes place in the early 20th century in rural China. The story begins as Yang Tianqing (the regular Zhang collaborator Li Baotian) is returning from a trek to sell silk for his adoptive uncle, Yang Jinshan (Li Wei). Jinshan, whose trade is dyeing fabrics, is known for his cruelty. Tianqing learns that Jinshan has just recently purchased a new wife, having beaten two previous wives to death after they failed to produce a son, the cruel irony being that Jinshan is in fact impotent.

Upon meeting the wife, Ju Dou (Gong Li), Tianqing is immediately enamored with her. At night, Jinshan tortures Ju Dou. Eventually, Tianqing discovers Ju Dou's bathing area and spies on her. He does not know that Ju Dou knows he is there. Although Tianqing watches luridly, by exposing her bruises to him and sobbing, Ju Dou transforms the meaning of his gaze, forcing him to see her not only as a sexual object, but also as a human being.[11]

Soon, the two are unable to control their passions any longer, and they engage in sexual intercourse. When Ju Dou discovers she is pregnant, she and Tianqing pretend that the child is Jinshan's. Jinshan suffers a stroke which leaves him paralyzed from the waist down. After Ju Dou tells him that the child is not his, he attempts to kill the child and later to burn down the house. Jinshan is tied up by Tianqing and hoisted in a large barrel, leaving him dangling helplessly and as a bitter bystander to his usurpation. Knowing that society would never accept her infidelities, Ju Dou goes to a nunnery to terminate another pregnancy. Jinshan continues to have designs on the life of the child who he named Tianbai (Yi Zhang), but when he first calls Jinshan "Father", Jinshan accepts this as psychological revenge on Ju Dou and Tianqing. Jinshan falls into the dye vat and drowns one day while playing with his son and a funeral is held for him.

Ten years later. Ju Dou and Tianqing still run the dye operation, but Tianbai (now played by Zheng Ji'an) is now a rage-filled teenager. Rumors of his parents' infidelities drive him to nearly kill a local gossip. Ju Dou later reveals the truth to her son in a fit of rage. She and Tianqing decide to have one last affair and grow weak after falling asleep in a cellar with little air. Upon discovering his parents resting in the underground cellar after their tryst, Tianbai drags them out - still weak and unable to awaken - and drowns Tianqing. Ju Dou then burns the mill down as the film ends.


In the original novel Tianqing is the biological nephew of Jinshan and the story itself is about incest by affinity. The makers of the film version decided not to use the incest angle. In the film, Tianqing and Jinshan are not biologically related, and Ju Dou only begins her relationship with Tianqing after learning that he and Jinshan are not related.[10]


  • Gong Li, as Ju Dou (S: 菊豆, T: 菊荳, P: Jú Dòu);
  • Li Baotian, as Yang Tianqing (S: 杨天青, T: 楊天青, P: Yáng Tiānqīng), Ju Dou's lover and Yang Jinshan's adopted nephew;
  • Li Wei, as Yang Jinshan (S: 杨金山, T: 楊金山, P: Yáng Jīnshān), the owner of the dye mill and Ju Dou's husband;
  • Yi Zhang, as Yang Tianbai (S: 杨天白, T: 楊天白, P: Yáng Tiānbái) as a child; Ju Dou and Tianqing's son;
  • Zheng Ji'an, as Tianbai as a youth.


Ju Dou was released by Miramax Films in March 1991.[3]




DVD release[edit]

Ju Dou was initially released on DVD in the United States as an all-region disc on the Pioneer label, Geneon Entertainment, on June 29, 1999. The disc included English subtitles.

The film was re-released by Razor Digital Entertainment on February 14, 2006 as part of the new Zhang Yimou collection to capitalize on Zhang's recent international successes of Hero and House of Flying Daggers. The new edition was Region 1 and included English, simplified Chinese, and traditional Chinese subtitles. Despite the DVD box stating that the film is presented in widescreen, it is actually presented in full frame.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Galbraith IV 1996, p. 238.
  2. ^ Kuoshu, Harry (2002). Celluloid China: Cinematic Encounters with Culture and Society. SIU Press. p. 151. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Galbraith IV 1996, p. 239.
  4. ^ Bonet, Christopher (18 December 2006). "The Glory that is Gong Li". IFC News. Archived from the original on 25 January 2013. Retrieved 13 April 2007.
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (1991-04-12). "Ju Dou". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 2007-04-13.
  6. ^ Neo, David (September 2003). "Red Sorghum: A Search for Roots". Senses of Cinema. Archived from the original on 27 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-28.
  7. ^ "The 63rd Academy Awards (1991) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 12 September 2015.
  8. ^ Zhang Yimou. Frances K. Gateward, Yimou Zhang, Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2001, pp. 26-7.
  9. ^ Zhang Yimou. Frances K. Gateward, Yimou Zhang, Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2001, p. 42.
  10. ^ a b Gateward, Frances K. Zhang Yimou: Interviews (Conversations with filmmakers series, ISSN 1556-1593). University Press of Mississippi, 2001. ISBN 1578062624, 9781578062621. p. 159.
  11. ^ Larson, Wendy (2017). Zhang Yimou: Globalization and the Subject of Culture. Amherst, New York: Cambria Press. pp. 77–104. ISBN 9781604979756.
  12. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Ju Dou". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-08-05.
  13. ^ "100 best Chinese Mainland Films". Time Out. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  14. ^ "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 March 2016.


  • Galbraith IV, Stuart (1996). The Japanese Filmography: 1900 through 1994. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0032-3.

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