Red Dust (1990)

One could maybe marvel at its storytelling efficiency with a 90-minute narrative spanning decades of tumultuous modern Chinese history, but it doesn’t quite know whether to be epic or cheesy in its treatment.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Dir. Yim Ho
1990 | Hong Kong/Taiwan | Drama/Romance/War | 94 mins | 1.85:1 | Mandarin
PG (passed clean) for some disturbing scenes

Cast: Brigitte Lin, Chin Han, Maggie Cheung
Plot: A talented lady novelist falls in love with a Chinese traitor working with the Japanese during the WWII.
Awards: Won 8 Golden Horses – Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Leading Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Makeup & Costume Design, Best Original Film Score; Nom. for 4 Golden Horses – Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Recording, Best Original Film Song
Source: Tomson Films

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Review #1,810

(Reviewed at Oldham Theatre as part of Asian Restored Classics programmed by Asian Film Archive)

Spoilers: No

Although Red Dust won eight Golden Horse Awards back in 1990, I think it is rather overrated.  The average restoration work doesn’t help its case either.  But 1990 was a great year for Chinese cinema, with the likes of Wong Kar Wai (Days of Being Wild), Ann Hui (Song of the Exile) and John Woo (Bullet in the Head) presenting some of their finest works.

However, one can’t deny the epic narrative of Red Dust, and marvel at the fact that director Yim Ho was able to tell a story spanning decades of tumultuous modern Chinese history in no more than 90 minutes.

Its storytelling efficiency aside, Red Dust is unfortunately kind of schizophrenic—it doesn’t quite know whether to be epic or cheesy in its treatment.  As the film reaches its climax, it embraces both despairingly, marked by original music that reveals the limits of its tedious arrangements.

At least we get to see a fine central performance by Brigitte Lin, and a striking supporting turn by Maggie Cheung.  Inspired by the life of esteemed writer Eileen Chang (though it does not make any mention of her), Red Dust is a tale of a talented novelist falling in love with a Chinese traitor who works for the Japanese during the Occupation.

One might draw parallels to its recent European incarnation—Pawlikowski’s (also 90-minute long) Cold War (2018)— where romance takes a couple through decades of breakups and reunions amid the political turmoil.

Grade: B-



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