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Zhou Yu de huo che (Zhou Yu's Train)

(2004) * 1/2 Pg-13
97 min. Sony Pictures Classics. Director: Sun Zhou. Cast: Gong Li, Sun Honglei, Liu Wei, Gao Jingwen, Pan Weiyan.

When people say they hate "arty" movies, they've obviously seen one too many movies like Zhou Yu's Train, a self-conscious "art film" that's a poetic meditation on the nature of love, blah blah blah. Watching Sun Zhou's too-little, too-late stylistic cousin of Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love feels not unlike sticking your face into a bolt of silk gauze: a not unpleasant sensation, but interminably boring after a few minutes.

The story of "a woman trying to find herself" is another star vehicle for Chinese superstar Gong Li, star of Raise the Red Lantern, Farewell, My Concubine, and Wong-Kar Wai's upcoming 2046. Li plays an impetuous pottery maker named Zhou Yu, who finds herself embroiled in an emotionally hesitant love triangle with two men: poet Chen Ching (Tony Leung Ka Fai), for whom she travels great distances—hence the train—and veterinarian Zhang Jiang (Honglei Sun), with whom she reluctantly shares her train rides.

Though she has an intense passion for the poet, their love-making gives way to his sullenness and her unwelcome efforts to promote his poetry as a sign of her love. The roguish and persistent Zhang eventually gets under Zhou's skin, but she remains fickle and hopeful that her love for Chen will prove true. These unfortunate characters are all shading and no substance, which Sun Zhou exacerbates by giving Gong Li a second character, an acolyte of the poet who takes to stalking him and Zhou.

The film has a rarified air about it, with its scrambled chronology, portentous tone, and liberal use of slow-motion photography. Some will succumb to these elements and accept the film as poetry, but the acting, plot construction and visuals aren't transcendent enough to mesmerize. Zhang tells Zhou, "Everybody loves romance and poetry, but in real life, it's a different story"; nevertheless, the sentimental elements of the romance drown the real ones in the end, when Sun Zhou fulfills his long-foregone metaphor. Who wants to sit on a platform and watch three one-track minds pass each other, back and forth?

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